April 11th, 2013
|11:40 pm - "1,000,000 to 1", he said|
Tonight I went out to the local cinema to see the unwieldily titled Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of The Worlds – Alive on Stage! The New Generation. (*) It was a recording of the performance of the show at London's O2 Arena last year. The show is somewhere between a musical and a concert, but there are extended graphic sequences played on big screens in the background. In one sense they detract a shade from your own mental images; in another sense, they're lavishly and beautifully done, completely in keeping with the rest of the show and would be very difficult to improve upon.
The show has a full string orchestra of dozens and a band of ten playing the songs, with half a dozen actors coming on-stage to sing the vocals. The musicians were first class, everyone was dressed gorgeously steampunkily and I may have something of an instant crush on the harpist Julia Thornton doing what she does. The narration is performed by a hologram of Liam Neeson projected into various places and almost interacting with the cast. There was plenty of stage trickery and very clearly huge sums invested in the production.
Almost front and centre is the titular Jeff Wayne himself as conductor, often dancing away as he keeps the rhythm, like a younger and more artificially stimulated Lionel Blair. There are gorgeous sweeping camera shots all around, including among the musicians, illustrating an extremely interesting tablet-like system that appears to have replaced printed sheet music (which I'm sure isn't original, but I hadn't seen it before) and effectively a digital metronome per player keeping track of the bar and beat number. As the second act got somewhat into four figures of bars, I can see the point.
The orchestration of the show was slightly different to the one I consider canonical, but not obviously better or worse. The only obvious infelicities were those introduced by Marti Pellow, expressing the sung thoughts of the narrator, and they could well have been deliberate and stylistic. The whole show is very synth-heavy, possibly to... not a fault, but a point where I might have hoped that a couple more instruments might have been deployed as visually obvious instruments. It's tempting to wonder how much mixing was required to keep the audio balance, and not displayed on-stage.
I particularly enjoyed the somewhat scenery-chewing (but, again, appropriate in context!) turn by Jason Donovan as Parson Nathaniel. By and large, I reckon the score is at its least interesting (or, perhaps, least appealing to my taste) in the first part of the second act, but the visuals and the acting do much more for the overall experience of the production here than they do when the music is sufficiently compelling to carry itself along.
In general, I fully approve of the use of cinemas to broadcast "alternative content" such as this; late last year, Meg and I went to see a cinema broadcast of the New York Philharmonic Concert Version of Company, not least because anything with Stephen Colbert and Neil Patrick Harris is something of an easy sell. (As it happened, the audio was consistently out from the video, so we got some vouchers to come to the cinema again for free... which I don't think we've ever used, and which may have expired. No such issue with TWoTW, not least because it was apparently digitally broadcast.) Apparently some cinemas also broadcast live footage of the BBC coverage of the most recent Olympic Games and it would surely have been a good place to watch them as a communal event.
Both that broadcast and this had an intermission and there was even a cart in the corner of the theatre selling ice-cream, as opposed to having to go out to the lobby, and the till on the cart rang a bell with each sale. I point this out as the whole thing felt as retro as a milkman, and even more appropriate in context.
The theatre had - at a guess - sixty people in attendance, and I suspect I was one of the youngest there of my generation. (It was fun to speculate that electronic dance acts may, in time, still be doing revival tours and attracting us children of the '70s and '80s even when the musicians - and we listeners - get as old as, say, the still-multi-million-per-year Rolling Stones of these days.) Tickets were more expensive than a standard admission, lacking (I suppose) the synergy of being tied to a major distributor who will supply films week in, week out and can take the misses with the hits. Nevertheless, I came out feeling that I had got pretty good value for my money and that I was glad to see it on a big screen with a beefy sound system, rather than on someone's DVD player.
I'm a fan of (JW'sMVo) TWoTW in the first place. I can't imagine it's uncommon for people's musical taste to be heavily influenced by what they listened to growing up, and it's no secret that games can be a huge part of that influence. Again this is far from rare, as borne out by - for instance - the growth of video game music concerts. Specifically, TWoTW will always take me back to playing Quasar, the brand of laser tag prevalent in our locality, and back to 1992 (+/- 1). Rofo's Theme (as used on The Hit Man And Her) and a couple of other tracks as well have similar effects. Ding! Good shot. (Seeing the show again also reminded me of my flight of fancy that the whole of the brilliant soundtrack to Scavengers, a short-lived game show with little to commend it other than its outstanding score, was based on a six-note motif appearing twice in TWoTW. Unlikely, but not implausible.)
The cinema broadcast of TWoTW is a two-off; if you're thinking "oh, I wish I had known" then you have a second chance; I believe it's being broadcast as a matinee at 2pm this Sunday in some chains of UK cinemas. Check your local for details!
(*) It's very tempting to append And Then Some 2 + 1 in the Peter Kay stylee, but I fear it would lose credibility and, more to the point, cause people to apply the credibility loss at the wrong point.
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