Invading a Brave New World

By Russell Baillie

The Martians are coming to an arena near you. Russell Baillie reports on the arrival of a rock version of H.G. Wells' best-known work

So, a big stage production of The War of the Worlds? How ever will they do that? And what's more - who's going to play the Tom Cruise role?

"I've always been compared with him so much, that it's me," laughs Jeff Wayne, the producer-composer behind the hit concept album of H.G.Wells' sci-fi classic. "The only difference is that he is 5 foot 7 and I'm 6 foot 8."

The concert which lands at Auckland's Vector Arena in September is a multimedia version of Wayne's 1978 double LP. It has sold about 15 million copies since its release including more than 150,000 in New Zealand, making us, per capita, its biggest fans.

The live production had a month- long arena tour in Britain last year after the release of a remastered version of the album timed to catch interest generated by the Cruise-Spielberg big screen update of the story.

Now it's our turn to experience the invasion of 64 musicians - including a 40-piece string section - and singers, a 30m wide video screen carrying CGI animation inspired by the album's original artwork, and a 9m high Martian fighting machine which fires "heat rays" at the audience when it's not scanning punters' faces and projecting them on to the backdrop.

Some of the album's original voice cast are involved, including New Zealander Chris Thompson, as well as Moody Blues' singer Justin Hayward and Richard Burton.

Yes, Burton might have died 23 years ago but he will be on stage narrating the role of journalist George Herbert, as a giant hologram head, possibly reminiscent of his role as Big Brother in the film 1984.

Though the image is based on a photo of a 30-year-old Burton and was melded, using universal motion capture, with an actor speaking his lines, Burton was never filmed when he recorded his narration.

Though other roles, like that of the late Thin Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott have been replaced by live singers, Wayne said Burton's voice was vital to the show.

"The easy route would have been to have an actor live on stage doing that performance for the role.

"Richard's voice for us became so iconic, he is the only character in the piece who travels all the way through and that is one of the reasons we didn't tamper with his performance and [why] we brought him back from the dead.

"It's never been done before in live entertainment, so we are keeping our fingers crossed."

The rest of the cast is made up of Aussies Rachael Beck, Michael Falzon and Australian Idol runner-up Shannon Noll.

The War of the Worlds has cast a long shadow over American-born English-resident Wayne's musical career. "It's a nice shadow, I am proud of it so I do accept that."

But as its constant sales to new generations of listeners show, it's an album that seems to have endured.

"Looking back, rather than having known it would all those years ago. I think it's connected for a few different reasons.

"It certainly went against the odds of what was out there at the time - the punk revolution and disco was king of the dancefloor.

"But I think it found its own space. We've had hit singles, we've had over 300 club remixes, people keep hearing bits and pieces and they get connected with it in some way."

Lowdown

What: Jeff Wayne's The War of the Worlds on stage
Where: Vector Arena
When: Late September, dates to be confirmed
Tickets: On sale from Ticketmaster from Monday June 4

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