When Jeff Wayne first launched his new live show of War of the Worlds in 2006, the move was made with tentative footsteps. Like the alien tentacles referred to in the story, feelers were put out to see how the show would be received and how it could best be performed, with firstly a gig at the Royal Albert Hall and 13 other shows. Now, after a number of sold out runs across the world, the budget is bigger and the show is bolder.
Of course, like football managers suddenly given lots of money to spend - how you spend the cash, not much of it there is, is the most important thing. Since those first shows six years ago, the show has moved on considerably, with explosions, fire effects and of course a new cast - or the New Generation. Most notably Liam Neeson takes over the role of narrator from Richard Burton, but strangely he is still on video. Having made the bold step to lose Burton's iconic voice, it seems strange not to go the whole way and have the narrator on stage as part of the action. It means that awkward interactions continue between those on stage and the hologram narrator.
Despite all the changes cosmetically, the music remains fundamentally the same and that is after all what made Jeff Wayne's album so successful. There is an unnecessary spoken introduction featuring the aliens on Mars discussing their invasion, seemingly around a cup of tea, and a short play featuring a couple of amateur astronomers that add nothing to the show, while the second half begins with a weird conversation between the narrator and lost love Carrie, which is not in the book or the original album - and shouldn't be included here either.
While the cast may seem a strange collection of reformed troubled singers and E-listers, the quality of performances is stunning. Marti Pellow, Jason Donovan and the surprisingly impressive Ricky Wilson all perform their songs with relish, while Will Stapleton's Thunder Child is the outstanding moment of the evening. Pellow's take on Forever Autumn and Wilson's energetic Brave New World are noteworthy, while the explosive finale is both impressive and humorous.
Given the success of these tours, 33 years on there is obviously still real interest in Wayne's unique classic album and the O2 is packed to the rafters with young and (it has to be said mostly) old. Perhaps some scaling back to basics might help future tours though, as the show feels a touch bloated and over-indulgent, losing some of its original charm.