War Horse Could be Trial Balloon for Drama at The Smith Center


Photo by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

Say amen—an actual “play.” Sorta-kinda.

Tucked inside The Smith Center’s newly announced 2013-14 slate of touring Broadway productions—that last word nearly always synonymous with “musicals”—is War Horse, and it’s as close to a curveball as we’ve been thrown since our arts headquarters opened almost a year ago.

Among 10 titles reaching our marquee, War Horse (Oct. 2-6), a Brit import, was filmed by Steven Spielberg in 2011 but also entranced New York stage audiences that year. Based on the World War I-set, boy-loves-horse novel by children’s author Michael Morpurgo, it’s is a live-action/puppetry hybrid about a regal thoroughbred that inspires the best qualities of humans around him, even when reduced to dragging a plow or enduring the carnage of a cavalry charge.

Blatantly heart-tuggy—a flat-out weepie—War Horse boasts an orchestra performing a symphonic score, plus several folk songs. Yet the music serves as mood-enhancers rather than plot-advancers and character-explainers, making it mainly a drama rather than a musical. Broadway agreed, letting it gallop away with a 2011 Tony Award for Best Play.

War Horse could be a step toward booking more straight plays, perhaps eventually those whose only music resides in the hearts and souls of the characters, the rhythm of their words and the poetry of their stories.

Once the current season climaxes in June—that slate includes previously announced Anything Goes (now playing), West Side Story, Shrek, Beauty and the Beast, Billy Elliot, American Idiot and Catch Me If You Can—comes a solid roster, given available tour choices, beginning in August:

Must-sees: The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (critically hailed despite Stephen Sondheim blasting it for creative alterations, April 15-20, 2014); Les Misérables (transcendent theater experience also worth seeing for its more subtle aspects compared to the fine but overpowering movie version, Aug. 7-11); Once (2012 Tony-hogger—11 nominations, eight wins, including Best Musical—May 20-25, 2014); and The Book of Mormon (blasphemy turned into hilarity in the most celebrated musical in recent memory, June 10-July 6, 2014).

The rest: The Wizard of Oz (not Wicked—you can boo the lime-faced broomstick jockey, Sept. 10-15); Sister Act (Whoopi produces, but is nowhere in, um, View, Oct. 15-20); Evita (revival hits the road, crying over its flop Broadway run, never mind Argentina, Nov. 26-Dec. 1); Mamma Mia! (déjà vu, Las Vegas? Jan. 7-12, 2014); Flashdance—The Musical (grab a welding torch and boogie, baby, Jan. 28-Feb. 2, 2014). Credit Smith Center Prez Myron Martin for maximizing his schedule from the tour roster. Though a newbie on the circuit, our performing arts joint isn’t settling for scraps, fronting a lineup on par with major cities across America.

Plus one—War Horse—holding a promise for the future. Can we get an amen? Or at least a whinny?

STRIP POSTSCRIPT: Recently, a Rat Pack-themed, Vegas-set version of Rigoletto opened at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, and will be broadcast live at 9:55 a.m. February 16 at several local Century and Regal theaters. Among the characters is a Sinatra-esque, white tux-clad Duke of Mantua, belting out an aria to a casino crowd. No word on whether he decks Rigoletto in a Sands bar fight, but should they make it a movie, retitle it Opera’s 11.

Suggested Next Read

Stand Up Guys


Stand Up Guys

By Michael Phillips, Tribune Media Services

A writer must eat, which is why most playwrights eventually try their hands at screenwriting. Stand Up Guys, starring Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin, comes from the stage-trained Noah Haidle, whose story premise sounds like a sure (if derivative) thing for a trio of well-worn, well-liked mugs.