‘Few men even considered the possibility of life on other planets and yet across the gulf of space minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly but surely they drew their plans against us.’
Remember the mellifluous voice of Richard Burton as the narrator-cum-journalist in The War of the Worlds? It would take a brave man to consider bringing in a 21st century replacement.
When I spoke to musical producer Jeff Wayne he had just done that – step forward Liam Neeson who London 02 concert-goers will see and hear in holographic form when The War of the Worlds Final Arena tour plays on December 13.
Wayne found the courage to refresh the actor’s part after going on family holiday. He had taken the original TWOTW scripts for a ‘bit of holiday reading’ and discovered 16 of the Burton sequences had been left out.
He said: “We were working with multi-track tapes and the restriction of black vinyl in the late 1970s so we had to cut the content.
“This was the trigger to revisit the recording because it allowed the story to expand. It was rich material and it gave me a reason, a true motivation to look at it again. It just seemed valid.”
Wayne flew to Los Angeles to ask Liam Neeson to read the journalist’s script. He said: “Liam told me that he bought TWOTW album when it first came out, partly because he loved the music, but also because when he started acting one of his breakthrough parts was in a TV series starring Richard Burton.
“Liam said he feared ‘the demons’. I wasn’t sure what he meant so he asked ‘How could anyone top Burton?’
I explained the story had been expanded so he would not be doing a Richard Burton – but a Liam Neeson - to give it a new interpretation.
“I got on very well with Liam, he is a real gentleman. He speaks quietly, in another beautiful voice. In the show he is filling the spectrum just as Richard did.
“Liam was prepared to be filmed and this brought further opportunities for our touring production.
“We did not film Richard, unfortunately. He was a talking head floating above the stage which we achieved by using old footage of him.
“Looking back we were so lucky, his voice was like a musical instrument.
“I did not know Richard but wrote him a letter addressed to a theatre in New York where he was in the play Equus. A few days later his manager called to say Richard loved the idea.
“‘Count him in, dear boy!’ he said. I'll never forget those words.”
Fast forward to 2014 and with Liam Neeson the producer now has a character on stage in 3D holography.
Wayne said: “Liam becomes very much a living character. He did 90 sequences and hovers the stage - there is more realism, with a full body interacting with the characters on stage.
“We even do little tricks and when the journalist hands the artillery man a drink from the hologram. It’s one of those dynamo moments when everyone will be asking ‘how did they do that’?’
“And I am not going to tell you – it’s wizardry.”
The expanded show will be the sixth and final version and will also feature singer Brian McFadden, on stage as the journalist; Jason Donovan, returning to the role of Parson Nathaniel, and Carrie Hope Fletcher (from Les Miserables). Joseph Whelan from 2013's X-Factor, performing the voice of humanity, will also join the cast and Shayne Ward features as the artilleryman.
Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds: The Next Generation, The Final Arena tour includes the London 02 on December 13, Bournemouth International Centre on Dec 10-11 and the Brighton Centre Dec 14-15.
It all started with a Lego ad
Forever Autumn – with the haunting line ‘Because you’re not here’ started as a jingle for a Lego advert.
TV viewers wrote to Jeff Wayne asking whether it was part of an album so he decided to put some words to the tune. He said: “It got such a great reaction, so we added lyrics and turned it into a single. It ended up on a B-side in the US and an A-side in Japan.”
When he was writing the lyrics for The World of The Worlds he wanted the score to be original but kept coming back to Forever Autumn. He said: “I reached the part where the journalist discovered his fiancee was missing and it reminded me of Forever Autumn.
“It was all about loss. Although I was trying to write a completely original work, I kept thinking the song was a perfect fit. I had a little battle with myself, but I went for it. I succumbed. “