WHOEVER would have believed that, in the latter years of the 20th century, an album would be recorded that would go on to become one of the most successful albums of all time and then be the basis of a spectacular live show which is now on its sixth world tour?
Such is the phenomenon of Jeff Wayne’s musical version of The War of the Worlds.
Featuring the voice of Richard Burton, and stellar vocal performances by Justin Hayward, Phil Lynott, David Essex and Julie Covington, the original album spent the equivalent of over five years on the charts. It also collected two Ivor Novello awards. 2006 saw the first of the live versions.
Calling upon many of the artists from the album, Wayne created a mammoth production involving CGI, live-action, a full orchestra and rock band to bring the H G Wells’ story of a Martian invasion of earth to life.
The effects were state-of-the-art, by far the biggest and best being the 35ft Martian fighting machine which ‘scanned’ the audience and opened fire with its heat ray.
The live version has toured the world five times with occasional changes in cast members, with Russell Watson, Jennifer Ellison and Jason Donovan all taking part at some point or another.
Then a couple of years ago, Wayne re-recorded the album and amended the live show to reflect the new version.
“It’s not a remix of the album, it’s a re-imagining, says the genius behind the album and tour.
One of the more radical changes is the fact that the distinctive voice of Richard Burton was replaced by Hollywood star Liam Neeson.
“With Richard, our journalist – again – was finite. There was nothing else to use, Richard had done 74 segments for the album, which we used in the live version; whereas Liam has 90,” Wayne explains.
“Liam’s voice has a wonderful quality and he really was on a short-list of one.”
And the production has taken the journalist into new dimensions. “We saw Richard just as the floating head, but we see Liam in three ways: as the floating head, we also see him as a full body interacting with the performers on stage (at one point, ‘he’ knocks the Parson out); and he appears as a 2D image on the back-screen.”
“He’s now a total being and it’s a big improvement.
“There has been a massive leap in visual technology and the CGI has been heavily upgraded and there’s a new generation sound which gives everything a different sound and energy.”
War of the Worlds is at the First Direct Arena, Leeds on December 6, from £38.50.