Where: The Landmark Theatre, 362 S. Salina St, Syracuse, NY
When: November 27 through December 1
Review by Olivia Yang
A breathtaking life-size horse stands on the stage under soft glowing light. He gently nudges the young boy sitting in front of him with his muzzle and you can almost feel the warmth of his breath on your neck.
Adapted from the best-selling novel by Michael Morpurgo, the gripping five Tony Award-winning War Horse by Nick Stafford is brought to the Landmark Theatre by the Famous Artists Broadway Theater Series. This story of friendship, loyalty, war and love took the audience on a journey that expressed the power of hope.
Albert (Michael Wyatt Cox) raises and bonds deeply with his horse, Joey, as a young boy. However, World War I strikes and the two are separated when Joey is sold to the British cavalry. Albert then begins the perilous search for his horse in order to bring him home.
The story is simple, but the compelling actors and exquisite staging create an enthralling production.
Though Cox isn’t quite persuasive playing young Albert, he makes up for his performance in the second half of the show as his character becomes distraught in his journey. The relationship between the boy and his horse intensifies with Cox’s strong portrayal, and the final act flows with overwhelmingly genuine sentiment.
Albert’s parents, played by Gene Gillette and Maria Elena Ramirez, also strengthen the show. The pair vividly depicts struggling between resolving financial difficulties and their son’s happiness, layering emotions with the helpless decisions they are forced to make.
But it is the horse puppets, made by the Handspring Puppet Company, that steal the show.
From Joey as a foal to a full grown horse, each puppet is the size of a real horse. The tension is overpowering when six massive horses stand in a battle line on stage and gallop toward the enemies. The swiftness of the puppeteers along with realistic snorts and neighing reinforce the authenticity of the horses and establish the heart of the production.
Apart from the puppets that dominate the play, the stage is spun into a whirl of powerful visual and sound effects. From flashing cameras to machine gunshots, the lighting works in sync with both sound effects and the music, filling the space with spectacles. The detailed staging seeps into the cracks of the narrative and knits it tightly together.
War Horse delivers an exhilarating story through a series of well-orchestrated effects and performances. It charges straight to the heart, warming the chilly winter air with faith and hope.