On Tuesday morning of this week, after two weeks of puppetry-based "preliminary rehearsals" (which were full of intensive work and about as "pre" as an airport's "pre-boarding"), the entire cast of War Horse, as well as Lincoln Center Theater staff and a few other important folks, assembled in LCT's large rehearsal room for an official kick-off to the production. Many people offered encouragement to those in the room.
Andre Bishop, LCT's artistic director, addressed the artists, saying, "We insist you have a creative, talented, intelligent, moving experience here." Bernard Gersten, LCT's executive producer, said, "I only want to add that the welcome we extend to you is beyond stating."
Chris Harper, representing the National Theatre in London, which is co-producing with LCT, and where this War Horse production originated, commented, "I think it's going to look more magical here than it's ever looked." Bob Boyett, a producer associated with both the National and with LCT, and now with War Horse in New York, said he felt "honored" to be working with "the two greatest theatrical institutions on the planet," and confessed, as the moment overtook him a bit, "I'm trying not to be too John Boehner about this."
Co-director Tom Morris said, "Broadway is very scary, but to arrive in this environment, at this theater, is even more than we could have hoped for." Co-director Marianne Elliott added, "It's very exciting to be able to revisit the show, and there are parts of it we want to make better." (Speaking of excitement, the biggest applause in the room, as everyone assembled introduced him- or herself, was for Michael Morpurgo, who wrote the 1982 novel upon which the play, as well as an upcoming Steven Spielberg movie, is based.)
Drinking in the thrill behind all these remarks, and then, a little later, listening to the cast read the script, I thought that a letter by Army Corporal Ted Hart, an American serviceman, written the night before D-Day to his parents, expressed the overall tenor of the mood in the LCT rehearsal room.
Hart wrote: "I know it may sound strange for me to say this, but I feel about today a little like I feel about Christmas: you wait and wait and wait for it, and every other day you secretly worry that it's not going to happen. And then, finally, the day arrives and you can't quite believe it."
To everyone in the rehearsal room this week, let me say: Believe it.
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.