This latest touring performance of Jeff Wayne’s bestselling War of the Worlds sci-fi rock symphony has been dubbed the New Generation, a somewhat specious rebranding which amounts to a new cast and the replacement of Richard Burton’s dulcet but authoritative tones with Liam Neeson in walking, talking hologram form, mounting an alien stage invasion all of his own.
Of the flesh-and-blood cast members, Marti Pellow turned in a rather remote performance as the Sung Thoughts of the Journalist, Will Stapleton of trad hard rockers Jettblack was a safe pair of lungs to deliver the hoary Thunder Child, and seasoned musical theatre stars Jason Donovan and Kerry Ellis hammed it up gamely as the deranged Parson Nathaniel and his saintly wife, Beth.
Kaiser Chiefs frontman Ricky Wilson was ostensibly the furthest from his comfort zone, yet he gave the most spirited and convincing performance of the lot as the plucky but deluded Artilleryman – a West End career may yet beckon.
The trumpeted stagecraft that accompanied the music ranged from an anticlimactic heat- ray-firing Fighting Machine, which looked like it had been left over from an episode of Blake’s Seven, to a cheesy leaf shower during Forever Autumn, and none of it greatly enhanced the performance or could match the drama of the score.
To that end, The Black Smoke Band, including such respected veterans as Chris Spedding and Herbie Flowers in their line-up, gave good Seventies rock with their proggy synthesiser refrains, Claptonesque guitar solos and creepy use of the talk box to create the Martian mutterings, complemented by the stirring ULLAdubULLA Strings and the surround-sound system in the arena, which ensured there was no escape from the eerie alien theme.