"War Horse" is the latest offering from Broadway Across America currently playing at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale.
This is an unusual offering for Broadway Across America, known primarily for touring big budget musicals across the country, because while "War Horse" does have singing and choreography, it is not a musical. It is however, a very moving drama with a lot of spectacle and a story that will tug at your heart and bring tears to your eyes.
"War Horse" tells the story of a boy, Albert, and the horse, Joey, that he raises from a foal. His drunken braggart of a father sells Joey to the army when World War I starts and even though he's under age, Albert enlists in the British Army so that he can go to France to find Joey.
This play is based on Michael Morpurgo's children's book of the same name, but, other than a softening of curse words, is not specifically aimed at children. The horrors of war and the pain of loss and grief are not muted. The show contains many complex themes that may prove challenging for young children, and while the ending is very neat, it's very nice to have a drama onstage with a happy ending.
The stars of the show, without any question, are the magnificent puppets created by the Handspring Puppet Company to portray the animals in the show. The horses, Joey and Topthorn, are life-size puppets which are each manipulated by three puppeteers.
It is simply amazing how much emotion the puppeteers can bring to the audience with the flick of the horses' tails or the positioning of their ears and heads. The puppet choreography, by Toby Sedgwick, was the winner of the 2012 Fred & Adele Astaire Award for best Broadway Choreography.
The role of Albert is played by Alex Morf, who perfectly embodied the role of the young man so intently focused on his horse. The role of his father, Ted is played by Todd Cerveris and his mother Rose is played by Megan Loomis. Together this trio depicts a typical turn of the 20th century dysfunctional British family.
The music in the show is provided by two song men who appear on stage, John Milosich, vocals, and Nathan Koci, accordion. Their music adds a haunting feel to the show and takes the audience to turn of the century rural England.
The sets, costumes and drawings by Rae Smith are very simple and in their simplicity, near perfection. The drawings are projected on a stage wide screen representing a torn piece of paper that is essential to the story line. The drawings almost become a character in themselves. The costumes are time appropriate and the scenery, while minimal, is extremely effective.
The lighting design by Paule Constable and Karen Spahan coupled with sound design by Christopher Shutt serve to enhance Smith's sets and costumes and complete the images of rural England and War ravaged France.
"War Horse" is ultimately a very satisfying and enjoyable evening of theater. The quality of the production is first class. The 2011 Broadway production, upon which this tour is based, won 5 Tony Awards including awards for Best Scenic Design, Best Lighting Design and Best Sound Design and this excellence in design is evident in the tour production.
"War Horse" is simply an amazing piece of theater and one that everyone should experience.
"War Horse" runs through May 19 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW 5th Ave. in Fort Lauderdale. For tickets and information, call 954-462-0222 or visit www.browardcenter.org