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.