Saturday, 22 September 2007

War of the Worlds

Robb and I went along to see War of the Worlds at Rod Laver Arena last night. And I have to say, it was absolutely the best live glam rock show adapted from a classic science fiction novel that I've ever seen.

Released back in 1978, Jeff Wayne's musical version of The War of the Worlds went on to become one of the biggest selling albums of all time (well, top 100 anyway), and has gathered a cult following that lingers even today.

It's a double-album suite of music, with H.G. Wells' story narrated by the mellifluous tones of the Richard Burton. (Mellifluousness appears to be a requirement for this role . . . Spielberg got Morgan Freeman to do it in his recent adaptation). On top of this, the original album featured a who's-who of 70s rock, with Justin Hayward, David Essex, Chris Thompson from Manfred Mann's Earth Band and Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy.

The music is all late-70s rock with wah-wah guitars, distorted bass and synthesised keyboards. It's cheesy in parts, but I'm guessing that was the case when it first came out. Burton's narration brings a gravitas to proceedings, and it was great that they kept it intact for the live show. Unfortunately, the CGI Richard Burton hovering above the stage was a little more Max Headroom than Marc Antony at times.

Still, the band was amazing, as you'd expect. Hearing the music played live was great and they certainly did it justice.

There was a giant screen at the back of the stage showing various images of the story. There were the Victorian-era paintings featured in the original album, along with some new CGI images. Some bits worked better than other. The Red Weed movement at the start of Act II was stunning, with simple but intensely creepy animations of wispy weeds crawling over the land. The Heat Ray bit near the start was less successful, with confused visuals and repetitive lighting that started to get irritating after a while (especially for the people sitting in the two spots in the audience that kept getting hit with the "Heat Ray").

And I just don't know quite what to say about the giant Tripod that got lowered down onto the stage at one point. I could sort of see what they were trying to do . . . but . . . mmm. No, not really.

The performers' styles were either classic rock strutting (Justin Hayward/Chris Thompson/Shannon Noll) or musical theatre showiness (Michael Falzon/Rachael Beck). But for the parts they were playing it all worked pretty well. I must say that Shannon Noll was a real surprise. The part of Parson Nathaniel takes a fair bit of acting talent to pull off, as well as rock-god vocals, and Mr Noll did quite well.

All in all, I loved it. But I'm far too biased to make any sort of objective comment. I'm not sure it would have made any new fans, but then again, I don't think that's the intention.

Quite a brilliant move, when you think about it, basing a musical on a classic science fiction novel. There should be more of this sort of thing.

Who wouldn't like to see an all-singing, all-dancing version of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash? Or a cabaret based on Asimov's Foundation series? And Ender's Game is just crying out for the high school musical treatment.

There's definitely a market out there. Rod Laver Arena was packed last night, and these people had even braved the rampaging hordes of drunken Collingwood and Geelong fans that were loose in the city. That's commitment, people.

And no, they weren't there just to see Shannon Noll.


Spoon said...

Although you must admit, both at the start and at the end when they were going through the cast, nollsy got the biggest applause by far.

I too must admit the he was good, and I'm not quite sure how I'm going to face the work colleagues on Monday armed with that single piece of information.

All up a good summary, Matt, although not enough mention was made of Herbie Flowers.

Herbie Flowers was the bass player on War of the Worlds (bot the original and in last nights gig) and is truly tops. Being a latent fan of Sky as a child (was one of the bands my brother was into) I've always known of Herbie Flowers, but didn't realise he played bass on this. And, if an overpriced program(me) is to be believed, also played the bass on Rock On by David Essex and Walk on the Wild Side, by Wassisname. Lou Reed.


Shannon (not Noll) said...

So what I am hearing here is that this whole production was an overblown vehicle for a Shannon Noll Concert.