1st December 2012
Jeff Wayne brought the updated version of his 1978 classic album ‘The War of the Worlds’ to life in Liverpool’s Echo Arena last night, in a tour dubbed ‘The New Generation’. Based on the 1898 novel of the same name by HG Wells, it tells the story of a Martian invasion of Earth through the eyes of a journalist desperate to be reunited with his wife. I am very much part of this ‘new’ generation myself, having never listened to the original album all the way through, though being aware of the main theme and Richard Burton’s iconic narration. As a musical theatre fan my interest was piqued by the involvement of West End star Kerry Ellis and so I went along to the Echo not quite sure of what to expect.
What I found was a stunning spectacle and truly enthralling night out and a lot of the music had apparently found its way into my consciousness over the years without me having realized it. Jeff Wayne himself is onstage throughout, conducting the ULLAdubULLA string orchestra and The Black Smoke Band; creating an incredible, pulsating sound that is at once immediately recognisable and yet also still sounds fresh and exciting.
Liam Neeson appears in holographic form as the narrator, The Journalist, speaking directly to the audience but also interacting with cast members on stage and stumbling through the streets of London on a huge screen covering the back wall, where the story is brought to life through the use of CGI animations and green screen. Neeson is a great choice, with an authoritative but warm voice and a commanding presence. It wasn’t long before I was completely drawn in to the compelling story. According to the programme, this updated version fleshes out the plot and adds more depth to the separation of the Journalist and Carrie.
Michael Falzon and Lily Osborne open the show and set the scene before Marti Pellow appears, playing ‘The Sung Thoughts of the Journalist’. Pellow gets to sing two of the most recognizable individual songs, ‘The Eve of the War’ and ‘Forever Autumn’. Unfortunately his voice seemed weak and he struggled to make himself heard over the orchestra. Close up images are also projected onto either side of the screens but he appeared to be standing rigidly with little movement, expression or emotion put in to the songs. He wasn’t bad but I couldn’t help thinking his moments should have been stand-outs in the show and sadly he was not strong enough to carry them off. The rest of cast fared much better however, with Will Stapleton (front man of rock band Jettblack) very impressive in his Act One appearance as ‘The Voice of Humanity’, with a very powerful voice and oozing stage presence.
Act Two featured an appearance from Jason Donovan as Parson Nathaniel and he gave a strong performance, completely selling the sense of despair and hopelessness his character felt. Kerry Ellis was as dependable as ever as his wife Beth, her voice effortless, though she doesn’t get the chance to belt like I know she can. Ricky Wilson, front man of the Kaiser Chiefs, probably fares best of all as The Artilleryman. If this is his first acting role you certainly couldn’t tell and he gives a very charismatic and energetic performance of ‘Brave New World’.
If you are going to see a particular performer be aware that they are all only on stage for probably a maximum of 10-15 minutes as Neeson’s journalist encounters each of them in turn on his journey. There are also some excellent special effects; with explosions, incredible lighting and not forgetting of course the invading Martian itself. Ultimately however, this show is all about the music and Wayne’s score truly is a masterpiece. The powerful sound from the musicians fills the arena and the melodies stick in your head long after you have left.
I was struggling to think of a word to describe what exactly ‘The War of the Worlds’ is. It is not a musical, nor a movie, nor a concert and yet it combines elements of each to create a spectacular evening of entertainment. If there is a word that best sums up what ‘The War of the Worlds’ is, it is an experience. An experience that can be enjoyed by people of all ages; by those that enjoy the novel, the original concept album or those like me that are completely new to the show but who will become part of a ‘New Generation’ of fans. Now go and experience it for yourselves!
‘The War of the Worlds’ is touring across the UK, the Netherlands and Germany. Find dates and book tickets here.