Presented by Supa Productions Inc
Directed by Ron Dowd
ANU Arts Centre until 27 October 2012
Review by Len Power
‘Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds’ was a 1978 concept album by Jeff Wayne, retelling the story of ‘The War of the Worlds’ by H. G. Wells. With its rock and string orchestra, small cast of singers and using narration to carry the story, the two-disc album remains a bestseller, having sold millions of copies around the world. As of 2009, it was the 38th best-selling album of all time in the UK.
If you’re familiar with the album, you’re not going to expect a formula musical when you attend Supa Productions’ courageous staging at the ANU Arts Centre. The first thing you’ll notice is that the stage is filled with musicians – rock instruments on one side, classical instruments on the other. Above your head is a complex set of lighting gantries specially installed for the show. Suspended above and behind the musicians is a massive projection screen which becomes a major player throughout the show. The acting area is a small strip of stage very close to the audience.
Sharon Tree, the musical director, and her musicians have the massive task of conducting and playing without a break in the show except at interval. The sound is well balanced across the rock and classical instruments with the right degree of volume necessary for this kind of music. You needn’t worry that it might be too loud for you.
Joseph McGrail-Bateup does an excellent job as the Narrator, capturing the turn-of-the century style of speech and injecting the right amount of drama and urgency into his performance. The small cast of singer/actors have been well chosen from the cream of Canberra talent. All five lead singers meet the challenges of the score effortlessly and their acting abilities make us care for the characters they are playing. Excellent support is provided by three backup vocalists.
Chris Neal has excelled himself with the spectacular lighting design for the show. James McPherson’s sound design complements the light show and has some amazing directional effects, too. Suzan Cooper’s period costumes were just right and it was good to see the band and orchestra dressed to suit the show.
Bringing this complex technical production together is Ron Dowd, the director. He’s no stranger to this kind of production, having previously given us ‘The Who’s “Tommy”’ and ‘Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”’. “The War Of The Worlds’ is his crowning achievement.
Not really a musical and not really a rock concert, ‘The War Of The Worlds’ has elements of both but comes together as a unique and entertaining show. Supa Productions deserves to have a hit with this one.
Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 'Dress Circle' Sunday 14 October 2012