London’s National Theatre jumped over the pond last night to reach donors in New York.
Taking advantage of the company’s originating role in the play “War Horse,” now in previews at Lincoln Center Theater, the American Associates of the National Theatre threw a gala.
“We entertain large New York audiences at our shows in London, so fundraising here feels natural, organic and easy,” John Makinson, the chairman of the National Theatre, who is also the chairman and chief executive of the publisher Penguin Group Inc., said.
“‘The History Boys’ paved the way,” Leila Straus said of an earlier NT production that made it to Broadway. She is chairman of the American Associates group.
At 6:30 p.m., audience members tucked into their seats for the play, which follows a boy and his horse from the countryside of Devon to the trenches in France during World War I.
The audience frequently applauded and at intermission, they stocked up on tissues. At curtain, they awarded the puppets by Handspring Puppet Company and the puppeteers a standing ovation.
As they made their way to the dinner tent, guests had other attractions: a cavalry of trumpeters and a few real horses. The tent was decorated by David Stark with teapots, a Maypole, and portraits of the U.K. royal family members. The menu included English pea soup, Yorkshire pudding, and stout-braised beef.
Among the 600 guests were Michael Steinhardt, chairman of asset-management company WisdomTree Investments Inc.; Duncan Niederauer, chief executive officer of NYSE Euronext; David A. Coulter, managing director at Warburg Pincus LLC, and Roy Furman, vice chairman of Jefferies & Co.
There was also hedge-fund executive Caroline Hoare, who is on the corporate advisory board of the NT; fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi and recent authors Henry Kissinger, Amy Chua, and her husband Jed Rubenfeld.
Joey, the play’s puppet-horse star, clomped in the live auction, neighing and snorting, wagging his tail, wiggling his ears.
“He is no Mr. Ed,” the artistic director of the National Theater, Nicholas Hytner, said.
“War Horse” is based on a children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo.
“My goal is to inform young people about the grief and the pain of war,” said Morpurgo, wearing a blousy royal-blue bow tie that his wife designed. “I hate those horrible little things that men have to wear.”
The play has been a hit for the NT, transferring to the West End in 2009, where it is still running. It also has the cachet, like “The History Boys,” of being turned into a film. Steven Spielberg has directed the screen version, set for a late December release in the U.S.
Judging from buzz at the party, the New York production is likely to take off. It features a new American cast and a revised script.
“The staging is clearer,” said Andre Bishop, Lincoln Center Theater’s artistic director.
“To me the most wonderful thing about the play is the physical excitement of this inanimate object brought to life,” said New Yorker writer Philip Gourevitch.
Seth Numrich’s disbelief is suspended while he plays the part of the boy who raises the horse.
“Before I started rehearsal, I was wondering what it would be like to have to pretend there was a horse,” said Numrich, who for the party had swapped his soldier’s uniform for a slim-fitting Theory suit. “From day one, the work the puppeteers do is so incredible. It always feels that I’m working with an animal -- until I accidentally step on a puppeteer’s foot.”
(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)