As an impressionable teen, I loved the original War of The Worlds by Jeff Wayne and still have the vinyl double album complete with a book of pictures and lyrics. Some years ago Wayne started doing a spectacular live version which has been further enhanced with more and more impressive effects with each new outing. Now he is doing the newly released ‘New Generation’ version.
The updated version has received mixed reviews which was a concern having coughed up the not inconsiderable price of entry but it’s always hard doing anything with an album that is so highly considered in its original form. For purists, the replacement of Richard Burton’s deep tones with Liam Neeson might be a step too far but in the event, it was better than I expected.
The show starts with a short mini play, setting the scene before launching into the now legendary “No one would have believed…“. The orchestra and band kicked off into the first piece and mighty fine it was too. When the cylinders landed, there was a mighty bass thump that shook the auditorium in a way it probably hadn’t experienced since Gary Numan’s ‘farewell’ gigs there back in 1981. (Numan placed massive bass cabinets under the floor throughout the arena making sure those Moog’s seriously kicked). Liam appears as what is supposed to be a hologram but to be honest just looked like a projection onto a screen.
The entire show features a 100 foot wide screen containing a well executed mix of the original artwork, CGI, original Victorian photos and animated members of the cast. The lights are used more as effects rather than the usual rock light show with brilliant white beams representing the heat ray firing onto the stage and audience. At other times such as the red weed portion, they cast an eerie red glow to everything.
The star of the show is of course the somewhat epic 35 foot high Martian fighting machine that appears on stage with menacing green lights inside and equipped with a darting white spot light and on occasion belching real fire towards the audience. The end of ‘side 1’ is a cacophony of sound, light and smoke as the battles are played out via the projection screen, blasts of heat ray and guns and of course the fighting machine itself.
The second part was more song laden with the Parson Nathanial and Artilleryman set pieces which also worked well for me although others felt this wasn’t quite so interesting. In the main, all singers did a good job, especially Jason Donovan as Nathanial who had a big job to do replacing Phil Lynott’s version but he did well. Vocally, the only weak link was Marti Pellow who was pretty dreadful, totally lacking in emotion, very robotic and somewhat weak sounding. I’ve heard good reports from other shows so maybe he had a bad night.
Following the album’s vision, after the main story there’s a small coda set in modern day with NASA control overseeing a Martian landing when suddenly it all kicks off again. They’re baaack!
All in all, a great night. The musicians, effects and overall presentation were top notch. The new version has some nice new synthy twiddles and subtle updates but in the main is faithful and I’m certainly going to buy the new album on the strength of the show.