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Jeff Wayne's The War Of The Worlds

December 2008

IT's quite something. I caught it at the Arena last summer on its second visit to the city.
And it works not simply as a musical spectacle, the live reproduction of the 1978 album by up to 100 players, but for the three-dimensional Richard Burton that hovers by the stage and the towering Martian Killing Machine.
Next time round, it'll be even better says its creator Jeff Wayne.
"We're hoping to raise the bar yet again. The main area that we've been working in is with a major company that does illusions in movies and on David Copperfield specials on TV."
The result will be "a huge ingredient that the show hasn't had before".
But he's not saying any more.
"That would be like a magician telling his trick. (But) we're not having a magician taking a Martian out of a hat.
"They are major illusions."

Other changes this year include adding former Brookside-star-turned-tabloid-fave Jennifer Ellison to the cast, as Beth, the Parson's wife.
"As the conductor I've got the best seat in the house," he laughs.
So will she adopt a different accent or will it be: 'Ey Nuthanyall, likowt, dairs sum Mairshuns'?
"(Laughs) Jennifer came to the studio for us to meet for the first time and for the first half hour I don't think we understood a word each of us was speaking.
"Like you say, she's a true Scouser and I'm a Yank. We had to adopt a mid-Atlantic accent."
If you haven't seen it, the show is based on his album Jeff Wayne's Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds that put H G Wells' story of an alien invasion to music with the story narrated by Richard Burton and a cast of voices that included David Essex, Phil Lynott and Julie Covington.
Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues, who sang on the album, is again among the cast for the next tour, which will pay its third visit to Nottingham in June.
"It's been amazing," he says.
"To bring back an arena tour in less than two years is most unusual and this will be our third in the UK in three consecutive years. In between that we've played Australia and New Zealand. After next year's tour we'll go on to dates in Europe and America."

So how come you haven't made a profit?
"It's hard to believe," he admits.
"The capitalisation costs of the show, to actually build, and design it... we don't get the same return as if we were a four- or five-piece band selling out the same amount of shows."
Along with the technology and the cast, Wayne, who conducts, is joined by the Black Smoke Band and the 48-piece ULLAdubULLA string orchestra.
The experience of being on the road so much since 2006 has been a treat, he says.
"Having not returned to The War of the Worlds for so many years it was all very fresh to me. And the challenge of mounting a live performance with very hi-tech stuff was a very exciting challenge. It takes us 12-15 months to plan a new production."
And it won't stop with the third tour. Wayne plans to keep on improving the show year after year.
I wonder if he's considered using the sort of animatronic puppetry that they've adopted in the Walking With Dinosaurs, which I saw in the US this year and is also coming to Nottingham next summer?
"Yes, I have seen it but I think it would be something for the future. We were working for about a month with a company that has done a lot of animatronics for films and theme parks and not only is it complex but we have an image that appears on our screens that reveals the look of the Martians. And to make them look like that Martian has its own sort of challenges."
The last time we spoke he was developing a feature length animated movie of TWOTW, some of which feature in the show projected on to a giant screen. But there's been no progress.
"If we keep enjoying the success we've had with the tour we could start turning a profit and re-invest in to the animated film. And grow our team enough to where we could be developing and producing the film while the tour carries on. We haven't reached that stage yet."
He adds: "It's an investment. It's a love for the story and the work that I created all those years ago. And in a way I was just as bonkers 30 years ago because about 70% of the money to make The War Of The Worlds was my own life savings."
And with 15 million sales that clearly worked out OK.
"Yes, it did."
Wayne, who now lives in England, originally studied journalism before turning to music composition and production, working with the likes of The Who, Tony Christie, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta Jones and the Human League.
While he'll be on-stage conducting –"it's like a workout, after each act I come off absolutely drenched" – for most of his career he's been behind the scenes.
As the son of an actor and singer hasn't he ever fancied being in the spotlight.
"I did make a film debut in a movie when I was a little boy that my dad had one of the leads in," he laughs.
"I was grooming a horse's rear end. If you'd have blinked you'd have missed my award-winning performance."

The War Of The Worlds, Arena, June 17, £41.50-55, 08444 124 624,

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