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>> AT THE KENNEDY CENTER, A DASHING RIDE THROUGH BATTLE AND FRIENDSHIP
'War Horse' gallops its way to the front at the Kennedy Center

 You've got a friend: Albert and Joey go on an amazing adventure in 'War Horse.'
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Date published: 11/8/2012

BY GAIL CHOOCHAN

The star of "War Horse" may not be real, but he will win your hearts as this incredible tale comes to Washington.

With beautifully constructed creations from the Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa, "War Horse" picked up five Tony awards, including Best Play, in 2011. Originally set for a short run on Broadway, the show continues its successful appearance into the new year. And now this powerful production has galloped to the Kennedy Center.

Based on a children's book by Michael Morpurgo, "War Horse" is a breathtaking display of unwavering friendship between a boy and his horse.

The story begins on the cusp of World War I, with the Narracott family in Devon, England. The father has just purchased a foal for 39 guineas, money that was supposed to go to pay for the farmhouse's mortgage. The son, Albert, forms a remarkable bond with Joey, trains him to be a workhorse, and fiercely protects him from his father's alcohol-driven outbursts. When war breaks, his father sells Joey to a British cavalry officer for 100 pounds without telling Albert. When Lt. James Nicholls, who promised the horse's return at war's end, dies, Albert rushes off to find his beloved friend, now serving the Germans.

"War Horse," directed by directed by Bijan Sheibani, is an emotional powerhouse that never lets up, with intensity building to the very end. Young men fighting for their country. Horses lined up for battle. Families waiting at home for word of their loved ones. It's a story that sounds all too familiar.

At a recent performance, a couple of theatergoers couldn't deal with the stressful nature and left before the finale. More than a handful viewers could be heard whimpering throughout the production and this reviewer often had a lump in her throat.

"War Horse" not only tells the story of Joey but Albert as well, as the 16-year-old embarks on a dangerous mission through war and death, and grows in the process. Andrew Veenstra plays Albert with winsome youthfulness, from playfully trying to gain Joey's trust initially to taking joyful sweeping rides on the English countryside. Veenstra convincingly transitions into a young man who doesn't hesitate to go to war to find Joey, honoring the promise he made to keep his friend safe.

The real stars of the show are the men and women who bring these majestic steeds to life. Joey enters the show as small and innocent as a foal. Later when he is exchanged for his adult version, the scene is absolutely spellbinding.

Toby Sedgwick, director of movement and horse choreography, is responsible for creating the puppets' realistic portrayal. These horses capture every little fleck of the real creatures. You could see the horses flick their tails, twitch their ears, their bodies heaving with every breath. The puppeteers also voice out their characters' neighs, grunts and cries.

Fun fact: Kit Harrington, who plays Jon Snow on "Game of Thrones," jumped into the public eye with his portrayal of Albert in the West End production.

If you hadn't seen the Steven Spielberg treatment of this beautiful tale, make your way to the Kennedy Center for an unforgettable journey.


What: "War Horse" Where: Kennedy Center, Opera House, 2700 F St. NW, Washington When: Through Nov. 11 Cost: $25 and up Info: 800/444-1324, kennedy-center.org