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Actress Lavita Shaurice says ‘War Horse’ embraces universal themes

Jules Becker
Actress Lavita Shaurice says ‘War Horse’ embraces universal themes

As a child, Lavita Shaurice would see shows with family in her native Philadelphia.

Her aunt, professional dancer Cheryl Burr, would take her to performances and introduce her to dancers.

These days, Shaurice is an acclaimed performer herself with well-respected roles in “Antigone” and “My Wonderful Day” in Philadelphia.

Early theater exposure and experience notwithstanding, Shaurice says she feels as though she is working with theater family and going back to school with her latest show — the national tour of “War Horse.”

Family camaraderie and World War I history lessons are ongoing benefits of her work in “War Horse.” Shaurice plays Emilie, a 13-year-old French girl who loves the title hero, Joey, during the horse’s time at her grandfather’s farm.

Adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford from the 1982 Michael Morpurgo novel, “War Horse” chronicles Joey’s odyssey from the Devon, England farm of his young owner Albert Narracott to war service in France and Germany.

Emilie briefly cares for Joey and Topthorn, another striking horse with whom Joey develops a singular friendship. Emilie, who has lost most of her family to the war, calls the horses her own and sees them as a hopeful connection with the outside world. 

To get the heart of her role and the world around her character, Shaurice did considerable research.

“There were a lot of Internet searches about France and World War I, and about living in the world of that child,” she noted.

Shaurice easily empathized with Emilie.

“No matter where you live, it’s kind of universal,” she said. “[Emilie] is just a child and [the death and destruction of war] is going on around her.”

Shaurice singled out the insight of “War Horse” casting director Daniel Swee.

“He said to really work for the fear that Emilie is experiencing,” she said.

Describing the heralded horse puppets — which earned the show its sixth Tony award — Shaurice marvelled at their lifelike qualities.

“[Joey] is a real living breathing creature,” she said. “You do forget it’s a puppet.”

Shaurice, who has a gray and white cat named Fonsi, has virtually bonded with Joey as she plays Emilie.

“When I looked into Joey’s eyes,” she said, “I started to get this sense of innocence. I felt like I was transferring my feeling for my pet on Joey.”

Shaurice also praised the diversity of the show’s performers as a result of color-blind casting.

“We have people of all colors and religions playing all the roles,” she said.

As for the experience of the audience, she advised theatergoers, “Be prepared to go on a journey. Come with an open heart.”

War Horse, national tour presented by broadwayinboston.com, Opera House, Boston, through October 21. 617-931-2787