The horse puppets were absolutely spectacular.
And itâ€™s a good thing, because besides the horses â€“ and I know Iâ€™m in a real minority here â€“ 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 childrenâ€™s novel of the same name, written by Michael Morpurgo, a highly acclaimed childrenâ€™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.
Hereâ€™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.
Iâ€™m not going to tell you how it ends, but itâ€™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, "Iâ€™ll find a way to keep you; Iâ€™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 donâ€™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 April 27, 2017
It's impossible to stop thinking about the production of "Carnival" currently being staged at In Tandem Theatre, which I reviewed on opening night last week and is a fascinating example of what can happen when you stretch yourself and dream big dreams.
Published April 25, 2017
Start with a girl, beautiful and rich. Then add in her uncle and guardian who wants to marry her so he can get the money and toss in a high-born stranger who also wants the girl's hand in marriage. What you have is Florentine's "Barber of Seville."
Published April 22, 2017
For 15 years, under the guidance of art therapist Lori Vance, ExYoMKE has gone one-on-one with some of the most disaffected children in Milwaukee, children of all races and genders, and tried to help them see the world through the eyes of an artist.
Published April 22, 2017
One of the most wonderful evenings at a theater is when the show starts on a high note and just keeps getting better and better until you get to an ending where your heart is lying on the floor and your eyes are clouded with tears. That's "Carnival."
Published April 21, 2017
"The Fantasticks" is a simple little musical, the longest running in history, about a boy and a girl and being in love. The problem in the Off the Wall Theatre production is that the boy can't hold up his end of the deal, and the whole production suffers.
Published April 20, 2017
When I'm moved, I write, and fortunately, with OnMilwaukee, I have a place for that writing. The series of Uber tales from the road have run intermittently, but this story, more than anything else, proved that words and social media have the power to spark action, to make a real difference.
Published April 18, 2017
There is nothing quite like the world of the carnies, who travel the country, state fair after state fair, luring spectators with claims of wonder and magic. And that world is coming to Milwaukee, believe it or not, in the tiny space at In Tandem Theatre.
Published April 15, 2017
What does it take to make a man great and what role do expectations, his and others, have on that quest? It's the issue before the house in "Great Expectations," the adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel that opened at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.
Published April 13, 2017
In Wisconsin, you can't bake cookies or cakes or brownies at home and legally sell them at a farmer's market or your kids' lemonade stand. But three women are fighting the law with the help of the powerful Institute for Justice.
Published April 13, 2017
Downtown Milwaukee will be getting a strip club, which could open well before the Bucks' new arena in 2018, thanks to a measure that is expected to win Common Council approval next week.