By Harry Haun
22 Jan 2012
It took him 30 years to do it, but Michael Morpurgo finally got his bid in for Joey, the World War I workhorse with the thoroughbred heart that he created.
At a recent Wednesday matinee of War Horse, the author of the original 1982 story popped up on the stage of the Vivian Beaumont Theater amid the actors playing English rustics at a horse auction and lobbed off a couple of unsuccessful early bids before the horse was snapped up by a drunken Devon farmer and led off to the nearby plow fields and, eventually, to the battlefields of the First World War.
The Lincoln Center Theater walk-on would have gone completely unnoticed by the theatregoers in attendance, had a special flyer not been inserted in the Playbill announcing that Michael Morpurgo, at this performance, was being played by himself. Padding the part a bit, the auctioneer in charge addressed him by name.
Morpurgo materialized for the curtain call as well, dead-center in a vast cluster of Devon denizens taking a bow. "It was lovely to be a part of that, y'know," he said afterward. "I live in a tiny place in the middle of Devon where it all started, and now it's in a theatre like this being acted out, and Spielberg's done the movie."
If he took to the stage with a certain in-born panache, that's because his birth father was Tony Van Bridge, a British-born Canadian actor — although Morpurgo never knew that until he was 19. He and his family were watching a CBC adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations" — the early scene in the graveyard with Young Pip when a grizzled escaped-convict jumps out at him from a gravestone — and his mother suddenly shrieked at him, "My God, Michael! That's your father!"
Morpurgo followed up on this late-arriving bit of news and became friends with Van Bridge, who twice trod the boards of the Beaumont (as Ulysses in 1968's Tiger at the Gates and as Jacob Lehmann in 1969's In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer). "I love full circles," he said, after trotting the same boards.Continued...