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September 2, 2014, 3:08 am

War Horse brings ‘theatrical magic’ to Philly

The National Theatre’s epic “War Horse,” winner of five 2011 Tony Awards including Best Play, makes its Philadelphia premiere Nov. 20 through Dec. 2 at the Academy of Music.

Hailed by The New York Times as “theatrical magic,” the production is the powerful story of young Albert’s beloved horse, Joey, who has been enlisted to fight for the English in World War I. As the story continues Joey is caught in enemy crossfire and ends up serving both sides of the war before landing in no man’s land.

Appearing in the cast as Emilie, a 13-year-od French girl who loves Joey during the horse’s time at her grandfathers farm, is local actress Lavita Shaurice, who says she feels as though she is going back to school with this production. To get to the heart of her role and the world around her character, Shaurice did considerable research.

“Doing this role was definitely a challenge,” Shaurice says. “We did a lot of research during the rehearsal process. Our directors and stage mangers made sure we had a lot of texts to reference, read a lot of books, and watched a lot of films. I remember we also had college professor who specialized in World War I history come in to lecture us. It was like being back in school, but it was great.”

At the show’s heart are astonishing life-sized puppets created by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet company, who bring breathing, galloping, charging horses to life on stage. Joey is just under 10-feet long and 8-feet tall — the size of a real horse and operated by three puppeteers.

“But from the very start, it’s easy to see Joey as a real horse, and the powerful story really gets people interested in the puppetry and the puppets. You don’t see puppets on big stages very often and soon enough, you and the audience forget that they are. They seem that real.”

Shaurice earned her BA in Theater from Temple University, and says she owes much of her love of the theater to the Philadelphia School District, and organizations like the Philadelphia Young Playwrights, who peaked her interest in the dramatic arts early on.

“I always wanted to be an artist but I wasn’t sure where my focus should be,” she says. “That was until middle and high school when the people from Young Playwrights came to school. They seemed so cool, and appeared to be having so much fun that sort of brought my focus in clearer.”

In fact, the focus was so clear, that after graduating she began appearing in local theater productions, including InterAct’s “A House With No Walls.” She’s also been seen in “A Home Across the Ocean“ and ”She Likes Girls” (2009 GLAAD Award), among other since moving to New York where she now lives.

Today, she’s looking forward to appearing in front of her hometown audiences, and showing the audience that this production is age and color blind, “for which I am totally grateful. I think color blind casting is happening all over but since this production comes from the UK I think things are a little different over there, a little easier for people to see the actors, not the color of their skin.”

Aside from casting actors because of who they are, she continues, this show also has a message. “Which is,” the actress concludes, “that love and family and the holding on to hope and your beliefs can make life better for everyone.”

For times and ticket information, call (215) 893-1999.