Bringing War Horse to Life on Stage

Relationships are often at the core of every great stage production, but few bonds are represented as artfully as the connection between a boy and his horse in the stage adaptation of War Horse. The story takes audiences from England to France during World War I to tell this extraordinary tale of valor, loyalty, and above all, friendship. Michael Wyatt Cox stars as Albert in the play based on Michael Morpurgo’s acclaimed novel and adapted to the stage by Nick Stafford. As the war begins, Albert’s beloved horse, Joey, is sold to the cavalry and shipped away to France. What follows is Albert’s incredible journey to find him and bring him home.

“There are some really huge themes in this show, but [it’s] really an anthem for peace. I think it’s important for audiences to see that through the scenes of war and what good comes out of that in love and the bond of friendship,” Cox says. “Animal lovers, especially. Even people who aren’t animal lovers might see this play and go home and hug their dogs a little harder.”

A native of Jupiter, Florida, Cox attended the Dreyfoos School of the Arts and went on to earn his BFA in Acting from the University of Central Florida. After serving a year as an acting apprentice with the Actors Theatre of Louisville, Cox appeared in A Christmas Carol and Heist! as part of the 34th Annual Humana Festival of New American Plays. Now based in New York City, his credits include icallmyselfaplay at the Manhattan Repertory Theatre and Waiting For Lefty at the 45th Street Theatre.

Cox, who has been on the road with the production for the last year and a half, describes this role as “vastly different” from any part he has played in his years on stage. “It’s different from anything I’ve ever done in the theater, really, because of the nature of the play and working so closely with the horse, which is puppeteered by three men and women,” he says. “It’s an amazing piece of stagecraft. It’s beautiful and gorgeous for audiences to look at, but it is also very real. For me to be able to tell the story is amazing and something I will always remember and love to do every day.”

War Horse, the winner of five Tony Awards, features a powerful, moving score that helps illustrate the play’s emotional richness. The inventive nature of the life-size horses, crafted by the Handspring Puppet Company, creates the realistic movements of a galloping, charging animal. Rehearsing alongside such a magnificent piece of art never distracted Cox from the heart of the story. In fact, he communicated with his inanimate co-star as if Joey were a living being.

“I think it takes more listening. You have to listen so much on stage with a human scene partner, but with the horse, you have to treat it like a real animal, and you really have to watch for what it’s feeling and what it’s telling you. What he wants and what he’s trying to tell you are the real emotional indicators that you have to focus on,” Cox says.

“Audiences can definitely pick up on our onstage communication between me and Joey. They can also pick up on their own interpretations that maybe my character has missed. That’s the cool thing about having an animal on stage, even if it is just a puppet. Everybody can read something different into it than what I’m reading.”

When War Horse ends its run this summer in Post to Post Links II error: No link found for term slug "Tokyo, Japan", Cox says he is looking forward to getting reacquainted with his creative partners at SmartMouth Productions, a film and photography company that also produces its own original, viral comedy. He says he will welcome distraction from the rigors of the road and the requirements of such an emotionally demanding piece, but will never lose sight of his true calling as a dramatic actor. “It always comes naturally when me and my buddies get together and work on these characters and write our sketches. The comedy just flows out of us naturally,” he says. “But the drama is something you can really dig into, and it’s something that I love to do.”

The Artist Series presents this stunning visual feat Feb 18-23 at the Times Union Center for the Performing Arts. For more information and tickets call 904-442-2929 or visit artistseriesjax.org.

About Liza Mitchell

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