I’m not sure if The War of the Worlds really qualifies to be reviewed on a theatre blog. It’s not a musical, but a concept album originally composed in 1978 (hence the 40th anniversary tour this year) and performed live with visual effects and a cast of singers. Still, it’s a pretty dramatic theatrical spectacle.
The talented bands do full justice to the score (which I thought I didn’t know, but which I did recognise, at least the opening bars), conducted by Jeff Wayne himself, still energetic at 75. The music, much of which is instrumental, is accompanied by visual storytelling, digital screens with a mix of animation, old Victorian footage, and modern live-action film. We have Liam Neeson narrating as the Journalist, and appearing on stage as a hologram; other performers also make occasional appearances.
These include Adam Garcia as the Artilleryman, Newton Faulkner as The Sung Thoughts of the Journalist, and Nathan James as The Voice of Humanity (yes, these latter two character names made me raise my eyebrows). Anna-Marie Wayne stars as the Journalist’s wife, and Jason Donovan and Carrie Hope Fletcher appear as the Parson and his wife. It’s a very random selection of performers, but what they all have in common is singing talent, even if the acting can be a bit over the top at times (I’m looking at you, Donovan).
As well as the digital storytelling, we have an actual Martian lowered down from the stage, and some impressive light effects – it’s almost as if you’re being zapped by aliens yourself. Along with the Victorian-style costumes, the whole effect is very steampunk.
Undoubtedly, The War of the Worlds is over the top, but as my friend put it, “if you can’t be OTT about an alien invasion, what can you be OTT about?” Ultimately, it is highly entertaining and memorable.