‘War Horse’ at the Fisher is a must-see production

WAR_HORSE_2_-_Albert_and_Joey._Andrew_Veenstra_(Albert)_with_Jon_Riddleberger,_Patrick_Osteen,_Jessica_Krueger_(Joey)Photos_©_BrinkhoffMögenburg

‘War Horse’ at the Fisher is a must-see production

By SUE SUCHYTA

If you see one show this season, make it “War Horse,” which runs now through Jan. 5 at the Fisher Theatre.
The winner of five Tony Awards in 2011, including Best Play, “War Horse” will captivate and move you as you are alternately thrilled, frightened, teary and emotionally overwhelmed by the splendid production the National Theatre of Great Britain brought to the Motor City.
For tickets, call 800-982-2787, order online at www.ticketmaster.com or www.broadwayindetroit, or go to the Fisher Theatre box office, 3011 W. Grand Blvd. in Detroit.
Set in England on the eve of World War I, 15-year-old farm boy Albert raises and bonds with Joey, half thoroughbred and half plow horse, a magnificent creature.
Life is not idyllic, though, and the boy nearly loses Joey because of his father’s drunken betting and pride.
When Albert thinks Joey is finally his, World War I breaks out, and his father sells the horse to a local army officer for what seems like a fortune to him.
However, when Albert hears Joey’s officer and protector has died, he lies about his age and enlists to try to find his horse on the battlefields of France.
Amidst carnage, confusion and chaos, Joey serves both sides as he tries to survive a horrific war.
The horses are one of the most magnificent features of the production. Created by Handspring Puppet Co. of South Africa, you forget they are puppets with people animating them from within and alongside 30 seconds into the production because their movements and reactions are so lifelike and responsive. From the smallest movement – a flick of a tail or the worried movement of the ears – to the frightened rearing up on hind legs in fear, they become living, breathing creatures.
For anyone who has ever loved a horse from near or far, Joey is a magnificent creature, with heart and soul, cleverness and a well-honed survival instinct.
Albert, his boy, has a loyal heart and a single-minded devotion to his horse as well. Anyone who has ever loved a pet, and bonded with them, especially when troubled, can understand.
Through their eyes and others, we see the horror and loss as war, as well as the boredom and the human side of the soldiers on both sides.
A long cloud-shaped screen above the stage projects both pencil sketch still images and moving images like snow or rain above the scenes, and providing times and locations during the war scenes.
The story is swift-paced and captivating as the humans and horses come to life and fight for survival amid a hell on earth. However, the show is less about war and more about the bond between a horse and a boy who survived challenging odds.
The company is compelling, versatile with strong performers, moving the story along smoothly and swiftly.
“War Horse” will touch and move you, and remind you why you love the magic of live theater.