The horse puppets were absolutely spectacular.
And it’s a good thing, because besides the horses – and I know I’m in a real minority here – I felt like I was trapped in the middle of a soap opera for 12-year-olds when "War Horse" opened at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts Tuesday night.
A huge and very appreciative house full of customers warmed, smiled, chuckled, sighed and gasped every time "War Horse" asked them to. I might have been the only one in the whole place who wondered what all the fuss was about.
"War Horse," winner of five Tony awards including Best Play in 2011, has been playing to capacity crowds in London and New York for years. Its national tour does boffo business.
But to me, it was a victory of wonderful, amazing technology instead of a substantive, adult story.
The play is based on the 1982 children’s novel of the same name, written by Michael Morpurgo, a highly acclaimed children’s author.
While the producers of this effort went to great lengths to create a visual panorama that is unmatched in my experience, someone forgot to tell everyone that we also need an adult story if we are going to expect adult people to pay hundreds of dollars to come and see it.
Here’s the story. Boy gets horse. Boy trains horse. Boy falls in love with horse. Horse falls in love with boy. Boy loses horse. Boy begins long search for horse.
I’m not going to tell you how it ends, but it’s pretty easy to guess.
In the middle of this, we have World War I, complete with Bad Germans; Good British; a surprised French maiden; bombs; lightning; dead soldiers and horses; vultures pecking at the dead soldiers and horses; a German traitor; two best-friend horses, one of whom dies from exhaustion; a conversation between a boy and a horse which the horse seems to understand; and music.
Oh, the music.
The music is a vital part of the button-pushing this emotionally manipulative play pushes like an expert.
Huns with Guns? Give us bombastic music with horns, and lots and lots of drums. The boy pledges to the horse, "I’ll find a way to keep you; I’ll pay the debt myself," and we hear a soaring serenade with more strings than a tennis racket. You get the point.
Nobody expects much intellectual effort to be expended when watching this play. The only coin of this realm is EMOTION.
It really works, and I think I know why.
The audience is so stunned by the incredible wizardry of the horse (and goose and bird and vulture) puppets that they don’t really need to pay much attention to the story.
The staging is absolutely gorgeous. The acting is fine. The technology, from the banner on the back wall that changes with every event to the puppets, is something everyone should see. At least once.
I hope this show is a massive hit in Milwaukee because I want first class Broadway tours to keep stopping here.
The only other hope I have is that the next one realizes that there are grownups are in the audience, and their standards are a little higher than your average 12-year-old.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published Oct. 21, 2014
The Green Bay Packers destroyed the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, and were leading, 21-0, after one quarter. It led me to wonder: is it better, or more fun to watch, a rout or a nail-biter.
Published Oct. 20, 2014
It was just a rehearsal - no costumes, no set, no orchestra, no chorus, no plush seats, no lights on stage. As a matter of fact, there was no stage at all, just a piano. And the whole thing was in German. In spite of all of those things that weren't there, the thing that was there was a fascinating story and some amazing voices that told the story with such romance and strength that I followed the whole thing from my folding chair.
Published Oct. 19, 2014
From "Romeo and Juliet" to "Love Story," the tale of youngsters who fall in love, only to see death and a search for meaning in it all is so often told that it seems to have become almost a cliche of itself. But when that story gets mixed with history and put into the hands of a small coterie of very creative people, the story creates the kind of theatrical magic that comes only on occasion. That's what happened when "Amelia" opened Saturday night.
Published Oct. 18, 2014
Most of the time when a play opens, it's easy to figure out who the star is - usually an actor with a major part. Sometimes, the star can be something else, like a director or a composer or a costume designer. Rarely would anybody pick a lighting designer as the star, unless they see the wonderful production of "Sherlock Holmes: The Baker Street Irregulars" that opened the season for First Stage.
Published Oct. 17, 2014
Alchemist Theatre billed "Suicide Sleep"as its Halloween show, but nobody in the audience was trembling or closing their eyes to keep phantoms away. Instead, they were all on the edge of their seats - as was I - riveted with curiosity about just where this journey was going to take us.
Published Oct. 16, 2014
The second and last televised debate between Scott Walker and Mary Burke is tomorrow night from 7 to 8 p.m. and I've got a couple of suggestions for you. Walk your dog. Clip your toenails. Call your mother. Organize your kitchen cupboard. Order a pizza. Clean out your email folders. Sleep. Anything! Anything to avoid this farce being perpetrated on the people of Wisconsin.
Published Oct. 14, 2014
I support the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in its battle to keep the old Milwaukee Arena (now the UWM Panther Arena) from meeting the wrecking ball in order to build a new Downtown arena. One, I love the building's history. Two, there is a better spot for a new arena.
Published Oct. 13, 2014
There's hardly anything I admire more than a chef who can take wildly different flavors, put them on a plate and serve something that is more delicious than you ever imagined. That admiration was reinforced Friday when I stopped for breakfast at Peter Sandroni's Engine Company No. 3.
Published Oct. 13, 2014
Liban has had quite a 50 years. He's been up and down and up and down and up. He's faced substance abuse, charlatan promoters, empty promises, dark and dingy clubs, big stages, European tours, the death of a loved one, some racial uncertainties and eventually his present state of comfort. If that sounds like a blues song, it's because his life has been like a great tune.
Published Oct. 12, 2014
There's this thing about cheap jokes: They can either be just cheap jokes, or they can be incredibly funny cheap jokes. And it's the incredibly funny kind that fill the two-plus hours of "Shear Madness," what may well be the longest running non-musical play in history.