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VOL. 129 | NO. 53 | Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Right on Cue

Orpheum premieres 'War Horse' a week after facility groundbreaking

By Andy Meek

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The Orpheum Theatre Memphis frequently plays host to musicals, but an arrival next week will bring something the theater doesn’t get to put on its stage often – a Broadway play.

“War Horse,” a play that inspired a Steven Spielberg movie of the same name, will premiere at The Orpheum March 25. It’s the story about a character named Albert and his horse Joey, the latter of which has been tapped to fight for the English during World War I.

“War Horse,” a Tony Award-winning Broadway play about young Albert and his horse, Joey, premieres in Memphis on March 25. Joey appears during the production as a life-sized puppet. 

(Brinkhoff/Mögenburg)

Albert, too young to enlist, goes on a search to find the horse and bring it home. The horse gets caught in an enemy crossfire and ends up serving both sides in the war, ending up in a no-man’s land, and Albert’s search for it gives the play its heart.

“It’s about both of their quests to reunite with each other,” said Christina Torres, The Orpheum’s press relations manager. “The play gives a really good picture about how war affects everyone. Because the play is based on a children’s book of the same name, there’s also something here children can enjoy, too, and find impactful.

“This is a special tour, from the London theater, that will probably stay in London for a while, so we really encourage people to come out and see it while it’s here,” Torres said.

“War Horse,” which got its world premiere in 2007 and has been seen by more than 4 million people worldwide, is currently playing around the world in places like London’s West End, in Australia and on a North American tour. Honors it’s won include Tony awards for Best Direction, Best Scenic Design, Best Lighting Design and Best Sound Design, all in the category for plays, among others.

One of the visual centerpieces of the show is the life-sized puppet of Joey the horse, which weighs 120 pounds and took 14 people to hand-make. One puppeteer at the front controls the head and ears, another controls breathing and the front legs and a third puppeteer controls the tail and back legs.

The puppet, made by a South African company, is almost 10 feet long and about 8 feet tall, and it has about 20 major joints. It can be ridden during the play because it has an aluminum frame along the spine that’s lined partly with leather, and the puppet will look like it’s breathing because a harness connects the puppet and puppeteers’ spines, which Torres said all combines to make it “as lifelike as possible.”

“War Horse” premieres exactly one week after a milestone for the Orpheum, the Tuesday, March 18, groundbreaking for the new Orpheum Centre for the Performing Arts & Education. The $14.5 million center will supplement existing classroom space for educational programming for a variety of ages, in addition to adding a second performance hall, featuring cutting-edge equipment and offering facility space that will be available to rent.

Orpheum president and CEO Pat Halloran said the center will “immediately become an important venue.” Among other things, the center will provide for participants Broadway boot camp classes and instruction in marketing.

“With the new facility, we can (target) specific groups of young people to give them more specific groups or classes and opportunities,” he said. “The highest priority for the new center is for offering young people between preschool and college the opportunity to participate in our programs in the performing arts. Something else equally important, these kids will be different races, from different schools, different religions and different neighborhoods, and they’ll all be a melting pot with many different characteristics. So we’ll also be trying to help the next generation of Mid-Southerners better relate to each other.”

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