Six years after it was originally scheduled for Auckland, acclaimed stage production War Horse is coming to New Zealand.

The National Theatre of Great Britain stage spectacular rides into Auckland in June after it was initially scheduled for a season back in 2013. The National Theatre told the Weekend Herald those plans were cancelled because market conditions at the time made the season less financially viable.

The production - to be put on at The Civic next year - has been on the road since September 2017 visiting towns and cities across the United Kingdom before a return to London to mark the November centenary of Armistice Day.

It comes to New Zealand in association with Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, which has brought shows like Annie, Singing in the Rain, The Sound of Music and, this month, Chicago to Auckland.

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With interest in World War I high as centenary commemorations ramp up, War Horse is likely to now find a bigger audience in New Zealand. About 10,000 horses were sent from this country to serve in North Africa, Gallipoli, the Western Front and what was then German Samoa.

Only four returned.

A 300kg life-size war horse statue, by former Defence Force artist Matt Gauldie, was last year unveiled in Hamilton. It honours the 8000 horses sent to the South African War and 10,000 sent to World War I. Only one horse returned from South Africa.

Joey, the puppet star of the musical War Horse, in Flanders Field near Ypres, scene of some of World War I's bloodiest battles. Photo / Luk Monsaert
Joey, the puppet star of the musical War Horse, in Flanders Field near Ypres, scene of some of World War I's bloodiest battles. Photo / Luk Monsaert

Since its 2007 debut, War Horse has been seen by more than seven million people worldwide with productions touring to 97 cities in 11 countries, including Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, China and in North America. So far, more than 450,000 people have seen the latest touring production and Auckland is one stop on an international tour.

The winner of more than 25 international awards, including a Tony Award for Best Play on New York's Broadway, War Horse is based on the book by Michael Morpurgo about a young boy called Albert and his horse, Joey.

At the outbreak of World War I, Joey is sold to the cavalry and shipped to France where he is soon caught up in enemy fire. As fate takes him on an extraordinary journey, Albert, who remained on his parents' Devon farm, cannot forget Joey. Though still not old enough to enlist, he embarks on a treacherous mission to find Joey and bring him home.

War Horse at the New LondonTheatre, showing how actors manipulate life-sized horse puppets. Photo/Brinkhoff Mögenburg
War Horse at the New LondonTheatre, showing how actors manipulate life-sized horse puppets. Photo/Brinkhoff Mögenburg

The musical features groundbreaking puppetry by South Africa's Handspring Puppet Company, which brings breathing, galloping horses to life on stage. Morpurgo says he's thrilled War Horse and the team from the National Theatre will tour to New Zealand, taking the show to places it has not been seen before.

"I am so pleased this is happening; that so many more people have the chance to enjoy this unique theatrical event. Steady boy, steady Joey. Trot on!'"

War Horse is the latest big-budget musical to be announced for 2019. The year will begin with Disney's Aladdin and the Nelson Mandela musical Madiba, while later in the year Les Miserables is set to return to The Civic. Local theatre companies are yet to announce their 2019 seasons, but Auckland Theatre Company finishes this year with Shortland Street — The Musical.

* Tickets for War Horse go on sale on Monday; the show plays at The Civic Theatre from June 21, 2019