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Friday, 22 April 2016

Jeff Wayne's musical version of The War of the Worlds, Dominion Theatre, ★★

Liam Neeson, David Essex, Jimmy Nail… impressive billing, enough to lure anyone to the Dominion Theatre, to witness ‘Jeff Wayne’s musical version of The War of the Worlds’. I had no idea what to expect from this production, and so I kept an open mind, and a closed eye to any earlier reviews of the show.

Based on the 1897 classic science fiction novel by H.G.Wells, Jeff Wayne’s 1978 ‘progressive rock’ musical adaptation of the work has been a best seller for many years. Its simply a story of how a spaceship from Mars, crashes to earth, and takes over the world, forcing the desperate citizens to consider building a new world underground. But don’t worry, there’s a happy ending, as the bacteria we humans are now relatively immune to, have the power to kill all the alien forms, and supposedly live happily ever after. There’s also an epilogue, based in NASA, warning us of the possibility of a re-visit in the future.

As the curtain rises, we are introduced to the impressive live orchestra, filling the stage, with the aforementioned 72-year-old Jeff Wayne, as musical director. I instantly recognized his dramatic main theme ‘The Eve of War’, brilliantly blasted out by his string section. But then the problems started…

I knew that I wasn’t going to see Liam Neeson in the flesh, so I had prepared myself for his projected and much publicized ‘3D holography’, which introduced us to the story. One by one, the ensemble entered the apron stage in front of the orchestra, hamming it to the hills, of the impending danger. This clearly was not a musical drama, but an orchestral concert accompanied by a spoken narrative, projected images, a few spectacular fiery effects and a large redundant ensemble whose only purpose was to fill the apron. Having mentally registered that fact, I sat back in my seat, and tried my best to enjoy the show, but I just couldn’t. It all felt like such a mess, and I felt so sorry for the ensemble, led by Essex and Nail, who’s one-song-wonders didn’t even work.

With such a powerful and dramatic story, it’s just a shame that the vast money spent on the ‘show’ had not been invested in a proper staged adaptation.  It all felt dated and deflated, and the real ‘war’ was with the music as it drowned everything on stage, even Neeson’s contributions. Sadly, the music didn’t even warrant this expensive wasted opportunity.

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