'War Horse' an amazing ride for Rochester native

05:00 AM, Nov 03, 2013

War Horse will be at the Auditorium Theatre from Tuesday through Sunday. (Brinkhoff/Moegenburg/ / Photo provided by RBTL)/


Written By Catherine Roberts | Lead Local Editor/Life

In war, no soldier is left behind.

That — along with the affection a boy-turned-man feels for his horse — is the driving force behind War Horse, originally an English novel by Michael Morpurgo. The National Theatre of Great Britain brought the story to stage six years ago in a production that is not quite a play and not quite a musical. Whatever it is, it won five Tonys in 2011, including best play.

The same year, Steven Spielberg brought the World War I drama to the big screen.

It’s such a beautiful story, and I believe in the message that it’s trying to convey — a message about friendship and the real difficulty of war,” says Megan Loomis, a School of the Arts graduate who appears in the national touring production opening Tuesday at the Auditorium Theatre. “It is about bringing what you love home.”

Joey, the horse, is as much a central character as any of the humans portrayed. The moviemakers had it easy — they could use real animals. The British theater found a way through puppets designed by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, which used steel, leather and aircraft cables in the construction.

Last spring, “Joey” came to the preview of the Rochester Broadway Theatre League season, and it soon became clear how tricky the illusion really is. Three puppeteers must work in sync to make the horse come to life (and there is more than one horse in the production). The puppeteers spend weeks studying each other’s movements, learning how to read reactions.

The result has been rave reviews everywhere the play has gone.

It’s quite an experience interacting with the puppets, says Loomis, who is also a 1999 Eastman School of Music graduate. It’s a different show every night, because no matter how much the scenes are rehearsed, the horses’ reactions vary.

I’m pretty lucky because I get to ride the horse,” she says. “That’s kind of a wonderful experience. It was terrifying at the beginning; then I got used to it.” Laughing, she adds that you think twice about eating extra cookies when you know you’re being held up in the air by handlers.

Loomis plays Paulette, a French country woman who meets the horse when the war is at full tilt.

The horse’s character has changed a lot from the beginning of the play,” she says. “Interesting and intricate relationships can be formed against the backdrop of what’s going on with the war.”

The play documents the fallout of war. Soldiers die, and relationships are changed forever.

Yet the central relationship, between Albert and Joey, is life-affirming in the book, and reviews from the play’s run suggest the same.

If Loomis’ experience is any indication, an emotional connection extends to the people involved in staging the play, as well. She recently signed up for another year on the road. It’s not the easiest way to make a living, she says, but it’s worth it for the right production.

It’s quite an amazing thing that I’m bringing it to my hometown,” she says.

If you go

If you go

What:
War Horse.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 6:30 p.m. next Sunday.

Where: Auditorium Theatre, 885 E. Main St.

Cost: $37.50 to $72.50.

For tickets: (800) 745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com.