Can ‘War Horse’ win the Tonys derby?

The Olivier-winning production of “War Horse” could well rein in a slew of Tony Awards this season. Adapted from the 1982 best-seller by Michael Morpurgo, the play tells the tale of a young English farmhand who enlists during WW I in hopes of finding his beloved colt who has been sold to the cavalry.

Four years ago, Nick Stafford turned the epic story into a stunning stage spectacle at the National Theater. The innovative production, which included both actors and puppeteers, won the 2007 Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle and Laurence Olivier Awards for set design (Rae Smith and Handspring Puppet Company) while Toby Sedgwick received the Olivier for choreography.

The Broadway production at the non-profit Lincoln Center Theater received many rave reviews touting its visual appeal. AP critic Mark Kennedy thought, “The reason to go see the show is its inventiveness, visual punch and its obvious reverence for the way animals move and behave. Look for a wayward goose to almost steal the show. Directors Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris have their hands full juggling both beast and Homo sapiens, and they have been aided by a reunion of the production’s acclaimed London design team.”

And Joe Dziemianowicz of the Daily News enthused, “In a season flush with new plays and musicals, who would have figured that the odds-on favorite for being the most emotionally resonant story, at times overwhelmingly so, would be the one whose main character has four legs and is played by a puppet?” However, Ben Brantley (New York Times) thought the show had more style than substance: “Beautifully designed by Rae Smith (sets, costumes and drawings) and Paule Constable (lighting), this production is also steeped in boilerplate sentimentality.”

This Christmas, Steven Spielberg‘s film version of “War Horse” arrives. Oscar nominees RIchard Curtis (“Four Weddings and a Funeral) and Lee Hall (“Billy Elliot”) adapted the Whitbread runner-up. Newcomer Jeremy Irvine plays the boy with two-time Oscar nominee Emily Watson and Peter Mullans as his parents, and Benedict Cumberbatch as an army officer.

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