When I make my near-nightly rounds of Lincoln Center Theater, just before curtain, I make certain always to walk past the line for ticket returns to "War Horse, just inside the facility's 65th-street entrance. Given the continuing popularity of the show, there is virtually always a group of hopefuls camped out there.
What I especially like about the line is the sense of hope it imparts. After all, you have to be willing to court Lady Luck if you arrive before showtime without a ticket in hand. So badly do you have to want to see those horses that you are willing to risk disappointment. (At most performances, around 5 to 10 people generally get in.)
Occasionally, I work the line a bit, eager to discover what drives people to undergo the ritual of waiting. The other night, for example, I talked to a young woman at the head of the group. She was called Sharon Gregg, and was visiting New York from Houston.
"I'm used to lines," she told me. "When the first iPad came out, I camped out for two days. When I was in high school, and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band came to Texas, I camped out overnight for tickets."
Gregg was at LCT with a friend, who described himself as "Bill Miller from New Jersey." (Either he was embarrassed to tell me from which town in New Jersey he hailed, or he is so proud of the entire state that he wants to be associated with every burg from Clifton to Cape May.) Miller said that he didn't mind waiting in the "War Horse" lines. "At least we're inside," he said, a reference to the fact that on the night in question the rain was coming down hard.
Miller and Gregg, it turned out, had met about 15 years ago, on the line for tickets to "Rent," which had just opened on Broadway. "That line was CRAZY," Miller said. "People would show up at 4 in the morning. It was for tickets to the first two rows of the orchestra. Almost everybody was young, and prone to scream after every number in the show."
I asked Miller and Gregg how they heard about "War Horse." "For me," Miller said, "it was good old word of mouth. A friend of mine from work saw the show and sent me a text, saying: 'If you don't go see "War Horse" then you and I can no longer be friends.' He added: "I don't always trust my friend's taste, however, so I rooted around online, in some theater chat rooms, to see what else I could find out. Almost everything I read was positive, so here I am."
Miller said: "I've seen things at Lincoln Center Theater before - 'South Pacific' was the last one - so I knew that any production here would be worth checking out. Like Bill, I also went online to read a few things. I checked out the theater's website and Facebook page; I even read a few tweets. I watched a few video interviews with the creative team. That was enough for me."
Both Miller and Gregg had one final impetus for seeing the show that day. (They both got in, happily.) "I've heard about the movie version that's coming out at Christmas," Miller said. "I wanted to be sure to see the play first." Gregg added: "I'm the same way with novels and movies. I always have to read the book first, because I want to imagine the characters in my own mind before they are replaced forever by the faces of George Clooney or Angelina Jolie, or whoever turns out to play them. With 'War Horse,' I wanted to use my imagination in a theatrical way before being forever imprinted with the realism of the big screen."
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.