FORT LAUDERDALE (CBS4) — “War Horse,” the five-time Tony Award-winning show about a young boy and his beloved horse opens in South Florida this week.
The thrilling stage adaptation of Michael Morpugo’s 1982 children’s book will ride into the stage at the Broward Center for Performing Arts on Tuesday. “War Horse” tells the story of Albert Narracott, a 16-year-old English boy that forms a strong bond with a trusty steed he named Joey.
The show uses astonishing life-sized puppets created by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company to bring to life the breathing, galloping, charging horses strong enough for men to ride.
It takes three puppeteers to bring Joey to life; he weighs 120 pounds. The actors said capturing the essence of how a real horse moves and acts is crucial.
Tuesday, Joey met Zach, a Fort Lauderdale police horse, and Zach had no idea Joey wasn’t the real thing.
“They do a real good job. When you see them sniff each other, rub shoulders. It was a good job, It was excellent,” said Chuck Sierra, a Mounted Police Officer from The City of Ft. Lauderdale, who said his horse loved Joey.
“It was one of the more affectionate interactions we have had with a live horse,” said puppeteer Brian Burns. “And to see such a genuine affection with a live interaction was something really special.”
“War Horse” is a visually stunning story about love, war, death and loss filled with masterful puppetry that makes make-believe believable.
The story begins in England in 1914, at the start of World War One. Joey, young Albert’s beloved horse, is sold to the cavalry and shipped from England to France. He’s soon caught up in enemy fire, and fate takes him on an extraordinary journey, serving on both sides before finding himself alone in no man’s land. But Albert cannot forget Joey and, still not old enough to enlist, he embarks on a treacherous mission to find him and bring him home.
This powerfully moving and imaginative drama, filled with stirring music and songs, is a show of phenomenal inventiveness that is currently playing to packed houses in London and Toronto.
The puppeteers who bring Joey and all the other animals to life have spent hours studying their movements and actions so they could get them right during the show.
“That is an ongoing study. At first we watched hours of YouTube videos and had many visits to stables. Now it’s soaking in whatever interactions of a horse you can you have,” said puppeteer Danny Yoerges. “I’ll see a carriage horse and stop and stare and see what he’s doing.”
Yoerges operates the head and leather ears, Burns is the heart or center and Greg brings up the rear.
“You’re too cute to be rear of horse” joked CBS4’s Lisa Petrillo to Greg.
“Thanks, I think” he laughed.
On stage Joey must hit the right marks but there’s always room for spontaneity.
“It’s a dance,” said Yoerges. “What we have is choreography that takes us from point A to point B but then we have a lot of liberty on stage. The actors were all told they are interacting with a live animal, so we act like a live horse”
For these men, performing under Joey, every night on stage is a ride they treasure.
“It’s a lot to take on” said Brian. “It’s a huge sensory overload. The show is so overwhelming and I think that’s one of things that make it special.”
“War Horse” runs from May 7 – May 19th at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.