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“War Horse” provides Music Hall magic

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Sentimentality and impressive stagecraft appear in equally substantial measure in the touring production of “War Horse” now playing at the Music Hall.

Nick Stafford’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s popular novel plays a bit like an epic reworking of “Lassie Come Home” for horse lovers. Set against the background of WWI, it’s a sweeping and involving production that benefits mainly from the astounding puppetry by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company.

While the story is populated with human actors, the non-human roles are brought to life by some astonishingly realistic work from a gifted ensemble of puppeteers. Their efforts are so seamless that it’s easy to forget that one is watching puppets instead of actual horses.

Michael Wyatt Cox leads the human cast as Albert, a teenager living in rural 1912 England, whose drunken father (Gene Gillette) purchases a colt he can’t afford. The lad raises the spirited horse he calls Joey, and they form a bond that horse lovers everywhere will easily understand.

A series of events leads to the sale of Albert’s beloved horse to a British Army officer (Andrew May) who takes Joey to the war front in France. The rest of the plot involves the wartime experiences of both Albert and Joey as the lad searches relentlessly for his equine friend.

While overlong and manipulative, “War Horse” is nonetheless quite moving. The production values are splendid and the story’s anti-war message comes through loud and clear.

The real attraction of this production is the very thing that Morpurgo initially thought would be impossible. The puppetry effectively brings the horses to life and the audience willingly suspends disbelief, investing emotionally in these artificial animals.

“War Horse” doesn’t trot through the paces. It gallops.

“War Horse” runs through Sunday at the Music Hall. Ticket information is available at 800-745-3000 or by visiting www.theaterleague.com.

 

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