No one would have believed that 40 years ago one album would have made such an impact on so many people. Released as Punk and New Wave jostled for position, a double album based on HG Wells classic tale of a Martian invasion seemed out of step with the musical climate but history tells a different story. Having sold millions of copies worldwide including an astonishing two and a half million albums in the UK alone, Jeff Wayne`s Musical Version of The War Of The World`s remains one of the biggest selling albums of all time.
Tonight, the Metro Arena was packed, with many here as an early Christmas present, to see what creator Jeff Wayne hailed as the most ambitious tour yet. This was no idle boast with a cast including Jason Donovan, Newton Faulkner, Adam Garcia and Rock powerhouse, Inglorious frontman, Nathan James bringing the story to thrilling life.
With Jeff Wayne taking centre stage conducting the 36-piece ULLAdubULLA orchestra and the Black Smoke Band featuring Herbie Flowers and Chris Spedding from the original recording along with former Wishbone Ash guitarist Laurie Wisefield who between them created the dramatic crescendos of tension and intense beauty as the story unfolded all enhanced by gripping animations on a huge screen that stretched the length of the stage.
Projections on two screens to the side of the stage saw Liam Neeson narrating the story while his 3D hologram interacted with the cast to the extent that a supremely timed punch floored The Artillery Man, Adam Garcia.
Newton Faulkner delivered a faultless rendition of the Sung Thoughts of the Journalist particularly on the shimmering Forever Autumn, while Rocker, Nathan James brought the melodramatic edge to the Voice of Humanity with his huge, commanding voice which was perfect to project the gravity of the Martian invasion.
With Jason Donovan reprising his role as Parson Nathaniel descending into madness, a far cry from his role in TV show Neighbours, his interaction with wife Beth, played by Carrie Hope Fletcher, was gripping and their on-stage chemistry was electrifying.
Wayne went to great lengths to ensure there was interaction with the audience. This worked so well when Donovan ran in panic right through the crowd and also when Garcia reached far out with the help of a large bridge into the centre of the Arena.
Of course, no show would be complete without the iconic Fighting Machine which descended from the lighting rig blasting jets of flames in its wake with its blood curdling cries of “ULLAAAAA”.
As the show reached its climax, we were brought bang up to date with NASA`s mission to Mars and as the sinister theme to The War Of The Worlds building for one last time, the NASA Controller was vaporised in one of the most astonishing spectacles ever witnessed in the Arena. After the show Wayne commented, with a wry smile, that they go through a different actor each night and after seeing that, you can believe it.
40 years on, The War Of The Worlds remains as thrilling and enthralling as ever, the music, the visuals and the whole production was simply stunning making the 40th anniversary tour the biggest and most spectacular yet.
Review and Photos By Mick Burgess