AP News

Still in the saddle, 'War Horse' goes digital


NEW YORK (AP) — The play "War Horse" is certainly living up to its name. The touching love story between a boy and his horse has become a reliable, dependable draw wherever it goes. Now it's going somewhere new — digital.

Some 300,000 people across the county have already bought tickets to see "War Horse" Thursday night as Fathom Events, National Theatre Live and BY Experience team up for a special live broadcast of the show from London's West End.

The show onstage at the New London Theatre will be captured by eight cameras and the audience inside will be warned that this show will be different. "Tonight's performance will be done, essentially, for the cameras. It allows it to be theatrical, but filmed," says Chris Harper, producer for the National Theatre of Great Britain, which first staged "War Horse" in London.

More than 300 movie theaters across America will show the broadcast, just the latest in a wave of theatrical shows that are being beamed to screens as producers seize on technological improvements and the public's eagerness to see shows from far away for a fraction of a theater ticket.

Harper admits he and the creative team worried about how the show would be received when the show first debuted in America. They needn't have bothered. "They responded in exactly the same way that audiences around the world have. It's a very emotional, theatrical piece of theater. It's like nothing else," Harper said.

Based on the best-selling 1982 children's novel by Michael Morpurgo and adapted by Nick Stafford, "War Horse" tells the story of the friendship between an English farm boy and his horse Joey set against the Great War. The magical stroke is the life-size puppets made by the Handspring Puppet Company and such attention to realistic movements that the human manipulators seem to disappear.

"War Horse" has been seen by over 5 million people worldwide and is currently playing in London's West End, Australia, Germany, on tour in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and on a North American tour that will take it to 68 cities and so far has grossed $65 million.

Hailed as a beautiful mash-up of life-sized puppetry and pathos, "War Horse" premiered at the National Theatre in London in 2007. It moved to the West End in March 2009, where it continues to play. It came to Broadway and opened at Lincoln Center Theater in March 2011, winning five Tonys, including best play. The play also inspired Steven Spielberg to make a feature film version with live animals, which earned six Oscar nominations.

The astonishing success of the play still surprises Harper, who remembers looking for something that could play just 50 performances over the Christmas season at the Olivier Theatre in 2007. "That would have been an achievement and we would have been thrilled to have done that," he said. "We certainly never thought it would be a hit in places like Germany and South Africa."

"It was not designed to be a money-making machine, at all. In fact, quite the reverse: It was deemed to be experimental," he added. After all, the central character doesn't talk and is portrayed by a puppet. "It sounds ridiculous but it came from a real place of passion."

A North American tour of "War Horse" kicked off in Los Angeles in 2012 and is currently in Orlando, Fla., with stops scheduled through the summer in Miami; Memphis, Tenn.; Kansas City, Mo.; Omaha, Neb.; Salt Lake City; New Orleans; and Houston. By the tour's end, "War Horse" will have played 749 performances.

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits


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