Ulla! The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one, but on December 6 the Martians attacked Wembley Arena.

Not really of course, but merely on stage – namely in Jeff Wayne’s spectacular live show War Of The Worlds, based on the famous SciFi novel by H.G. Wells.
Ok, so Jeff Wayne’s interpretation and adaptation for the album has been going since the 1970’s, but it’s only since 2006 that a multi-media stage show was launched. We’re now almost in 2013, so obviously changes took place over the years, not only as far as the cast is concerned but also how the musical is presented live on stage. Thanks to the wonders of CGI, TWOT has evolved both creatively as well as technologically – big time!

Acclaimed actor Liam Neeson, who plays the part of ‘George Herbert, The Journalist’, appeared holographic, allowing for certain interactions between the other performers and also the audience. Marti Pellow, ex-Wet Wet Wet, sang Herbert’s thoughts.
Then there was the screen, spanning in widescreen from one end to the stage to the other. The story (true to Well’s novel, it remained set in Victorian time) unfolded before our eyes in breathtaking multi-media style, with images juxtaposed and collaged. The performers, while on stage, appeared on-screen simultaneously, their every move and gestures mirrored. Very clever, and very effective.

We got to see nasty Martians with hideous tentacles (quite H.P. Lovecraft actually), and the Martian fighting machines attacking cities, villages and countryside were terrifying. The audience was eager for the big moment to arrive when one Martian fighting machine appeared on stage, shooting laser heat rays while flames shot up at the very front of the stage. Very impressive! I’m sure that the good people from Health And Safety were kept busy throughout the production, and the god knows how many technicians too. All the while composer Jeff Wayne – flanked by orchestra and musicians on either side – held reign over the complexity of the compositions.

After the prequel, strange cylinders approaching from Mars appeared on screen, with one landing on Horsell Common and shooting its deadly heat rays after the lid fell off. Journalist Herbert woke up by the noise of the aliens building their deadly fighting machines. Enter Kaiser Chief’s Ricky Wilson as ‘The Artilleryman’, who gave an incredible performance throughout. Informing George Herbert that Martian fighting machines appear everywhere with the war cry ‘ULLA!’, Herbert – once again cleverly dramatised via hologram – made his way to London to look for his fiancée ‘Carrie’ (actress Anna-Marie Wayne) and her father, but they’ve already fled. That scene was of course the cue for one of the musical’s signature tunes, ‘Forever Autumn’ (sung by the Moody Blues’ Justin Hayward on the original recording). Marti Pellow threw a wonderfully emotional rendition, while hundreds of copper-hued autumn leaves descended upon the audience from above – an inspired touch.

Another spectacular sight was the battle between Martian fighting machines and the frigate Thunder Child, out to rescue a steamer that had Carrie (also as hologram) and her father on it. On stage appeared Will Stapleton of hard-rock outfit Jettblack. His ‘Voice Of Humanity’ added serious rock ‘n’ roll swagger to the show.

This was followed by images of the slimy Red Weed covering the whole land after its destruction by the aliens. The next highlight arrived in the shape of Jason Donovan as ‘Parson Nathaniel’, a part sung by Thin Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott in the 70s’… the contrast couldn’t be bigger! To my surprise, Donovan cut a truly dramatic and intense figure as the delirious Parson, holding a crucifix upward and the cursing the alien invaders as the Devil. Meanwhile, his wife ‘Beth’ (West End musical star Kerry Ellis), in an attempt to persuade her husband that “There must be something worth living for”, got killed by the evil Martian Handling Machine. In another jaw-dropping on-stage trickery, her spirit got lifted direction ceiling, whilst her body remained grounded.

Ricky Wilson’s ‘Artilleryman’ appeared again, and with him the New Generation bridge construction. Another iconic song, ‘Brave New World’, and Wilson climbed upon the bridge, facing the audience and belting “We’ll start all over again!”
The concluding part saw Neeson’s ‘Journalist’ marching around Dead London (via screen and hologram) and the accompanying visuals were truly haunting. The Martian’s had died due to human bacteria, but the (funny) epilogue – set in the present – saw a NASA control centre in Pasadena reduced to smoke and flames, following a green mist coming from Mars… Laughter and applause from the audience not only for the gimmick, but the whole cast and of course, the genius that is Jeff Wayne!

You can catch the show on Dec 16 and 17 at the Brighton Centre in Brighton.

There’s also a New Generation Album of The War Of The Worlds available, released by Sony. The New Generation cast of characters is comprised of:

The Journalist
Liam Neeson
(Originally played by Richard Burton)

The Sung Thoughts of The Journalist
Gary Barlow
(Originally played by Moody Blues Justin Hayward)

Parson Nathaniel
Maverick Sabre
(Originally played by Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott)

Beth, Parson Nathaniel's Wife
Joss Stone
(Originally played by Julie Covington)

The Artilleryman
Ricky Wilson
(Originally played by David Essex)

The Voice of Humanity
Alex Clare
(Originally played by Manfred Mann’s Earthband’s Chris Thompson)