Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds
I try and keep abreast of what's happening and going on, especially in those areas of interest to me such as movies, TV and gaming etc. Occasionally stuff passes me by that I subsequently discover at a later date, often to the refrain of WTF? A few years ago I was idly channel surfing only to discover that a seminal UK children's TV show from my youth, the Mr. Men, had been remade in a more contemporary idiom. Luckily, the source characters were still relatively unscathed, and the revamped show did a competent job in bringing Roger Hargreaves work to a new generation. Still, no one had told me and discovering this, in such a fashion was a bit of a surprise.
Now I'm sure this is something we've all experienced at various points in our life. Often, we are more bemused by the fact that such a thing has happened without our being aware of it, rather than the specifics of the change. Frequently the matter is compounded by the fact that we have a strong sentimental attachment to that which has been altered, rebooted, re-imagined or generally messed with. Furthermore, surprise discoveries of this nature cause short periods of discombobulation. This phenomenon happened to me again quite recently. An innocuous chain of events, led to a surprise discover followed by a sense of shock, then incredulity and a lenghty string of profanities.
So what happened exactly? Well I had just downloaded a free Kindle version of H.G Wells science fiction novel, War of the Worlds. It is a literary classic and a good read after all. Because I am a man of a certain age, I have fond memories of Jeff Waynes' progressive rock, musical concept album from 1978. The mixture of spoken world, music and song left a big impression on me at the age of eleven. So, naturally my train of thought led me over to You Tube to quickly listen to a track or two from the aforementioned seminal recording. I idly clicked on The Eve of the War, expecting to hear the smooth baritone voice of Richard Burton as he narrated the introduction. Instead I suddenly became aware that I was listening to a completely different but not unfamiliar actor. The soft melodic Irish tones were unmistakable. It was Liam Bloody Neeson!
After my initial shock, I did some research to determine what was exactly going on. I discovered that the entire album had been re-recorded in 2012 under the revised title, Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds – The New Generation. This new album features more contemporary artists. Gary Barlow has replaced Justin Heyword, Joss Stone is covering Julie Covington and Ricky Wilson has usurped David Essex. All of this has come as something as a shock. However, on mature reflection I am not especially aggrieved by this change. It’s the same as when a new production of a famous stage musical is undertaken on Broadway or in the West End of London. A new cast brings a fesh perspective to the material and scope for alternative interpretations. I guess I was mainly flummoxed because I just didn't expect it and to find out in such a fashion.
Well it would appear that after the release of The War of the Worlds - The New Generation in 2012, a sumptuous stage show toured round most of the UK's major arenas, just as the original production did in 2006. This featured a performance of the entire album with a full orchestra conducted by Jeff Wayne himself. The holographic projection of Richard Burton's head has now been replaced by a twenty-foot image of Liam Neeson. The live pyrotechnics have been ramped up, as have the back projected visual effects. The live tour features a slightly different cast compared to the studio recording, with Marti Pellow and Jason Donovan taking major roles.
I managed to track down a Blu-ray release of the stage show that was recorded at the London 02 Arena and I must admit that the whole spectacle works very well. The music itself is still as powerful and compelling as it was back in 1978. Just bear in mind when it was written and the fashionable musical idioms of the time. The laser lighting combined with the CGI effects work and faux Victorian news footage does much to enhance the performance, as does the forty-foot Martian fighting machine. The cast are universally good, especially Jason Donovan who really throws himself in to the role of crazed cleric Nathaniel. The orchestra is also outstanding, as are guitarist Chris Spedding and the legendary Herbie Flowers on bass, who both appeared on the original recording.
Inadvertently stumbling across The War of the Worlds - The New Generation was both a shock and a surprise, but it has also provided a fresh perspective on something I’ve always enjoyed. If I have any complaint, then perhaps it's the fact that Mr. Nesson didn't point out to the Martians that he has a very particular set of skills and then proceed to punch them senseless. But I guess that would be too much of a deviation from the source text. NB After digging around online further, it would appear that on 29th November 2018, a brand-new production entitled Jeff Wayne's The War of The Worlds: The Musical Drama was rleased on Audible.com. This is a brand new five hour Audible Original Production based upon Jeff’s Musical Version and HG Wells’ source text, featuring new story and musical content. The all-star cast includes Michael Sheen as The Journalist, Taron Egerton as The Artilleryman, Ade Edmondson as Ogilvy, Theo James as Parson Nathaniel, with Anna Maie Wayne as Carrie, The Journalist’s Wife. I suspect I shall be listening to this over the Holiday period.