By David Walters 

I always eavesdrop in on what my fellow audience members are chatting about both during intermission and after the final curtain as we’re walking out. There have been times when I’ve totally disagreed with what I’ve heard, but hearing it sharpened my opinion, and there have been times when someone said one word that I hadn’t thought of that completely encapsulated the theatrical experience we had just witnessed. 

What I heard at Water for Elephants was: “This is my fourth time seeing the show and it’s just as good as the first.” “This is my second time and I brought three friends.” “Even after reading the book and seeing the movie, nothing prepared me for the joy of what this was.” 

All this a week out before the show even opens.

I totally concur with my fellow audience members on this one as we had all just experienced what can only be called, “Broadway theatrical magic!” Water for Elephants grabs that magic and makes it fly. It’s the feeling you have when the show is over, that you could easily just stay in your seat and if the cast and crew so desired, they could reset everything and do the show over again and you would be perfectly content to watch it all once more. 

I’m sure most of you know the story through either reading the novel by Sara Gruen or watching the movie, but this theatrical musical version completely stands on its own apart from either of those. The strength of the story is lifted to new heights with touching songs that either move the story or emulate the character’s feelings. Its book is by three-time Tony Award nominee Rick Elice (Jersey Boys, Peter and the Starcatcher), and a beautiful score by the PigPen Theatre Co. (The Tale of Despereaux). It is directed by Tony Award nominee Jessica Stone fresh on the heels of her acclaimed Kimberly Akimbo. 

Though the whole show, set, lighting, sound, music, story, choreography, circus magic, acting, singing, and dancing was a splendor to behold, there was one scene with a woman and a horse, and a song called “Easy,” that was breathtaking. Beautiful does not describe the visual ballet of emotion that was present on stage as the character Marlena (Isabelle McCalla) held her dying horse Silver Star (embodied by Antoine Boissereau). The uplifting visual as Antoine soared above the stage and danced in the silks brought the emotion from the stage to  stratospheric heights. A truly brilliant number. 

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Water for Elephants: book by Rick Elice, based on the critically acclaimed and New York Times Bestselling novel by Sara Gruen, score by PigPen Theatre Co, directed by Jessica Stone

Actors: Grant Gustint, Isabelle McCalla, Gregg Edelman, Paul Alexander Nolan, Stan Brown in his Broadway debut, Joe De Paul, Sara Gettelfinger, and Wade McCollum; and features Brandon Block, Antoine Boissereau, Rachael Boyd, Paul Castree, Ken Wulf Clark, Taylor Colleton, Gabriel Olivera de Paula Costa, Isabella Luisa Diaz, Samantha Gershman, Keaton Hentoff-Killian, Nicolas Jelmoni, Caroline Kane, Harley Ross Beckwith McLeish, Michael Mendez, Samuel Renaud, Marissa Rosen, Alexandra Gaelle Royer, Asa Somers, Charles South, Sean Stack, Matthew Varvar and Michelle West. 

Circus design is by Shana Carroll, choreography by Jesse Robb and Shana Carroll, scenic design by Takeshi Kata, costume design by David Israel Reynoso, lighting design by Bradley King, sound design by Walter Trarbach, projections by David Bengali, hair & makeup design by Campbell Young Associates, puppetry design by Ray Wetmore, JR Goodman, and Camille Labarre, music supervision and arrangements by Mary-Mitchell Campbell and Benedict Braxton-Smith, orchestrations by Daryl Waters, Benedict Braxton-Smith and August Eriksmoen, music direction by Elizabeth Doran, and fight direction by Cha Ramos.

Water for Elephants officially opens Thursday, March 21, 2024, at the Imperial Theatre (249 West 45th Street). Tickets can be purchased here.