Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds at the Dominion Theatre - West End Review

February 18, 2016


A classic concept album from 1978, which retells the story of the famous H.G. Wells novel, Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds is finally arriving in the West End after multiple UK tours in the past ten years. Fusing prog rock with a string orchestra and utilising narration to express the feelings of the various characters, the album is the 39th best-selling of all time in the UK. The big question though is whether the stage version is actually any good…

Opening with a bombastic strings intro, it’s fair to say that you’re instantly thrust into the spectacle of The War of the Worlds with the entire orchestra and Jeff Wayne himself on stage throughout, all sitting or standing within a steampunk style set. Behind them, a cinematic screen showcases some highly questionable but passable CGI (think Dr. Who), which provides various landscapes throughout the story as the numerous characters come and go.

The central story at play resides around the Journalist, who recounts his experiences of a Martian invasion in the late 19th century. On stage, the part is played by Michael Praed, whilst the narrations are provided by a 3D holograph of Liam Neeson. There’s no excuse for getting lost within the story; even if you just find yourself loving the music and daydreaming slightly, the narration will soon have you back on track. Because Neeson’s head descends on a screen every few minutes, you begin by thinking that across the entire production, this will become rather distracting. Thankfully you soon get used to it and the staging decision allows the performance to continue unabated. If it was left to Praed to provide the narration, the whole thing might become rather stilted.

As it is, the opening fifteen minutes are actually rather slow and drawn out (bombastic opening aside), with various costumed characters wandering back and forth across the stage, unsure of what has just crash landed to earth. However once the Martians begin to invade properly, The War of the Worlds ratchets up a notch with real fire, lasers, strobe lighting and a very cool 30 foot robotic Martian traversing across the stage.

The thing about Jeff Wayne’s album is that it’s undeniably ambitious and admittedly, a lot of it is fairly cheesy (“No, Nathaniel…”) Even so, it’s always been a spectacular piece of music in its own right and you get the feeling that everyone involved knows it’s almost painful at times, but that this is made up for by many of the catchy rhythms and string sections placed elsewhere. As such, The War of the Worlds doesn’t shy away from these more questionable moments; it’s relentlessly confident in its staging and although a fair few people were laughing – us included - as former Sugababe Heidi Range is flown across the stage in a dream sequence of sorts, billowed by an unseen fan (to say any more would be a spoiler), one simply has to sit back and admire its unerring efforts. It’s loud, proud and knows exactly what it is.

The acting isn’t always on point, some of the dialogue is cringeworthy at best and the ending has to be seen to be believed, but we’d be lying if we said we didn’t have a good time. One can ignore all of The War of the Worlds’ problems because simply put, there’s nothing else like it around. Even as the second half slows the production down way too much and dare we say it, threatens to become dull amidst a number of false endings, you’ll still find time to be impressed by the orchestrations and some of the lighting and production effects. With Jimmy Nail, Madalena Alberto, Daniel Bedingfield and David Essex in the cast, you might be expecting the stars to overshadow the music but the opposite is true. Jeff Wayne and the musicians are the real draw here, the rest of it is just window dressing.

By the end of the evening, you’ll undoubtedly come out of the Dominion Theatre smiling, though depending on who you are, it could be for a variety of different reasons.

Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds runs until 30th April 2016 and you can book tickets here. To see which other musicals are coming to the West End in 2016, please click here.

 





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Planning an event? Get in touch 

Here at Sternberg Clarke we know how to handle a challenge and we stop at nothing to ensure your event is a night – or day – to remember. Check out our create page and learn more about how we can customise your entertainment to match your needs.

Thinking about booking one of our many talented music acts? Visit our contact page and send us a message.

And Subscribe

Alternatively, if you simply want some inspiration, tips or thoughts on event entertainment, stay updated on our blogenjoy us on instagram and follow us on twitter

By Henry Fosdike