An anthem for peace

The­at­ric­al thrills: ‘War Horse’ will be per­formed at the Academy of Mu­sic Nov. 20 through Dec. 2.

Hailed by many as a piece of the­at­ric­al ma­gic, War Horse, the power­ful story of young Al­bert’s be­loved horse, Joey, who has been en­lis­ted to fight for the Eng­lish in World War I, will come to the Academy of Mu­sic on Nov. 20 and play through Dec. 2.

Based on the nov­el by Mi­chael Mor­purgo, the story finds Joey, caught in en­emy cross­fire be­fore land­ing in no man’s land, with young Al­bert, not yet old enough to en­list, em­bark­ing on a treach­er­ous mis­sion to find his be­loved horse and bring him home. 

New York nat­ive An­drew Veen­stra, a 25-year-old who ori­gin­ally planned on be­com­ing a doc­tor, takes the role of Al­bert.

“I thought I’d like to be­come a pe­di­at­ric spe­cial­ist, but I found my­self rather miser­able go­ing through all the course work,” he said.

So one day he had a talk with his older broth­er, an at­tor­ney, who ad­vised his kid broth­er to pur­sue something as a ca­reer that made him happy.

“As a kid I wanted to do everything — mu­sic, sports, everything,” he said, “but I es­pe­cially liked act­ing.” 

So on his broth­er’s ad­vice, he tried out for a play. He got a part, and that even­tu­ally sealed the young man’s fate. Gradu­at­ing from Brigham Young Uni­versity with a BFA in Act­ing, Veen­stra was on his way. Since that time, he has ap­peared in many re­gion­al pro­duc­tions, off-Broad­way, in films and more. But he will tell you that War Horse is one of his fa­vor­ite roles. 

“In the show, I am about to lose my be­loved horse, Joey,” Veen­stra ex­plained. “And I was able to make the ne­ces­sary con­nec­tion by think­ing about my re­la­tion­ship with my own dogs, who are really no dif­fer­ent from horses. All they really want is love, com­pan­ion­ship and in­ter­per­son­al re­la­tion­ships.” 

Veen­stra was re­quired to do a lot of re­search for his role.

“I stud­ied World War I his­tory, life on the farm dur­ing that time, and even took rid­ing les­sons,” he said. “I even took a really good look at horses, real­iz­ing what mag­ni­fi­cent an­im­als they really are. They are so power­ful and so strong, and amaz­ingly gen­er­ous in how they are with us when they don’t have to be. But they let us do what we do to them be­cause they are so full of love. And our dogs are very sim­il­ar.” 

In the play, Joey and Al­bert grow up to­geth­er and need each oth­er. It is that mu­tu­al need that grows in­to love.

“So when the mo­ment comes when they are ripped from each oth­er, I end up cry­ing every night,” said Veen­stra. “It’s ex­haust­ing but still very cleans­ing. It feels like you’ve gone through hell but come out on the oth­er side.” 

Ac­cord­ing to the act­or, the au­thor of the ori­gin­al story says this is an “an­them for peace. We see life through the eyes of an in­no­cent creature who is just thrown in­to all this chaos. This was a time of barbed wire, bombs, chem­ic­al war­fare and ma­chine guns. So in the play we get to see the sense­less treat­ment and slaughter of an­im­als. And when it all comes to an end, what have we ac­com­plished? Play­ing on themes of love, war, peace and hatred, we won­der what is it all worth.” 

Win­ner of five 2011 Tony Awards, War Horse is filled with stir­ring mu­sic, and is presen­ted in as­so­ci­ation with Hand­spring Pup­pet Com­pany. At the heart of the show are life-sized pup­pets that bring real­ity to the work. 

“Al­though Joey is a pup­pet, we all view him from the start as a real horse, 100 per­cent of the time,” Veen­stra said. “It takes the audi­ence just about four seconds to view him the same way. Every­one sees how it’s done, but we all im­me­di­ately move past that and get in­to the story. And it be­comes a thing of beauty for all of us.” ••

For show times and tick­et in­form­a­tion, call 215-893-1999.

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