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'War Horse' Oscar nods great for play: cast

TORONTO - The talent behind an upcoming Toronto stage production of "War Horse" were pleased to see Tuesday's Oscar love for the epic Steven Spielberg film of the same name.

TORONTO - The talent behind an upcoming Toronto stage production of "War Horse" were pleased to see Tuesday's Oscar love for the epic Steven Spielberg film of the same name.

While the hit theatrical and film adaptations of Michael Morpurgo's novel are very different animals, so to speak — the movie features real horses while the play has stunning, life-like puppets, to name but one obvious difference — any attention to the story is welcome, say the cast and creators.

"It's great for us," puppetry director Mervyn Millar said Tuesday morning at a "War Horse" stage show media event held shortly after the movie version received six Oscar nominations, including best film.

"I think the more people who are in touch with this story that it tells, and the simple thread of that story of the boy and the horse and the innocence of the horse in war, it's absolutely fantastic for us in terms of people understanding what they might see when they come to the theatre."

Brendan Murray, who plays Lt. James Nicholls in the play, agreed.

"It's just a validation of the fact that the story is resonant in a very big way," said the North Bay, Ont.-born actor, who lives in Toronto.

"My hope is that the story resonates enough with people that they will want to come to the theatre and see it and feel that presence of horses in front of them.

"And if it brings greater awareness to the play, all the better for us."

"War Horse," the play, begins performances with an all-Canadian cast at Mirvish Productions' Princess of Wales Theatre on Feb. 10. Opening night is Feb. 28. This is the show's third production worldwide, following smash runs in London and Broadway.

Adapted by Nick Stafford, the Tony Award-winning show is about a British farmhand and the harrowing journey of his beloved horse, Joey, during the First World War.

With rehearsals for the highly anticipated Toronto production in the final stages (as Millar quipped, "It's just about to get hairy"), many in the busy cast and crew here said they weren't aware that the Oscar nominations were coming out Tuesday.

Nevertheless, they felt the multiple nods for the film were "fantastic" as they will no doubt help create buzz about the play, said actor Alex Furber, who plays the lead role of Albert.

"They had a screening for the cast and we all saw it. It's an amazing film and it's wonderful that it's getting this recognition and I'm just so happy that it's getting the 'War Horse' story out there," said the Toronto native.

"If you've seen the movie, you're going to absolutely love the show."

"Anything that raises the awareness of the story is fantastic," said director Alex Sims.

"I think the theatre show is unique with the horses that we have and them being puppet horses and it's a bit of theatre magic, but I think anything that lets people know it's out there is great ... and there's a whole cinema audience that might not naturally go to the theatre."

"War Horse" began at the National Theatre of Great Britain in 2007 and transferred to London's West End in 2009.

Millar said Spielberg went to see the show in London and went backstage to meet the performers.

"They were incredibly nervous, as you can imagine," recalled Millar, one of many original "War Horse" creative team members who are working with the cast and crew here to help them create their own version of the show.

Millar said Spielberg even recruited some people from the theatrical production to help with his film, including songmaker John Tams and actor Robert Emms, who played Albert in the stage show and has a part as the landlord's son in the film.

"There were lots of aspects of the play that exist in the film's screenplay as well, so it's been a bit surreal watching that happen, but really exciting to know that people know about the show."

 
 
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