15 February 2018 | The-Last-Prydonian
A mesmerizing experience which can only be even more electrifying to view theatrically as it is at home
The New Generation is a 2014 stage adaptation of Jeff Wayne's musical and is a re-imagining of his 1978 concept album, retelling the story of The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells.. Told from the perspective of the unnamed Journalist.Influential as it has been a seminal piece of musical artistry; Jeff Wayne's 1978 concept album for his progressive rock spin on the acclaimed sci-fi novel had also been brought to the big screen in the camp 1953 movie which it was a partial throwback to. With legendary Welsh actor, Richard Burton providing lead narration as the titular Journalist who recounts his experiences in 19th century; Great Britain when Martians invaded the Earth. Chronicling the ongoing turmoil, and his horrifying experiences as he along with an military Artilleryman who's path he has crossed, they journey together so that the Journalist may find his love; Carrie and his new companion to report to Headquarters. The story was renowned for when science-fiction was a rarity in literature (The Time Machine being another of Wells 's works) as well as it's abrupt and jarring climax.
Back in 1978, the idea of bringing the album to life on stage might have seemed too ambitious and elaborate a production to develop. Holographic technology utilized to bring Irish Actor; Liam Neeson (who replaces Burton) to life may not have been quite so advanced in 1978 as it is today. However in 2014 with it having sufficiently progressed in it's advancement to be proficient in Wayne's objective, the once seemingly impossible was achieved. With it's charismatic lead being joined by fellow new cast-members; Marti Pellow, Ricky Wilson, Will Stapleton, Kerry Ellis and last but unquestionably not least; Jason Donovan. It has to arguably be the crowning achievement in it's creators career since it's initial inception. Sublimely histrionic in it's dramatic rendering; with it's stars emoting with camp conviction which befits the fanciful nature of it's source material, the story is somewhat relayed to it's audience via a cinematic screen displaying pre-filmed footage. Featuring a wide array of extras and digitally enhanced computer imagery recreating Victorian Britain, and giving it an animated quality that reflects it's cartoonish aspect to complimentary effect.
Undoubtedly challenging in execution for Wayne, his production team as well as his talented cast who each talk directly to the Journalist as if actor Neeson is actually there. On occasion objects are past between his protagonist and the other supporting players as if he's really present. Clever as it is, it's backed up further by an extraordinary model recreations of the iconic Martian Tripod which looms majestically as an ominous presence, highlighting part of the alien invasion.
With undeniably powerfully robust songs which are performed with a mixture of more traditional orchestration, and electronic synthesizer's which reverberate a cosmic sense of eeriness which permeates the musical plays entirety. It's beyond impossible not to be entranced by the magisterial and seeming omnipresence of the Martian threat. With each member of the cast channeling the highly charged range of emotions which punctuate the severity of the figuratively pseudo-biblical and apocalyptic world event that is taking place. It's non-more depicted so succinctly than with Jason Donovan's religiously feverous, Parson Nathaniel. A man who along with his devoted wife, Beth portrayed with dutiful love, loyalty and compassion by Kerry Jane Ellis who is luminescent in the beauty of her physicality as well as her vocal skills. It provides what is arguably the zenith of it's dramatic power with Donovan awe-inspiring as the near crazed Parson, and we palpably feel the full weight of his spiritual hysteria. As the Sung Thoughts of the Journalist, Marti Pellow is as perfect casting choice as, The Narrator in the stage production of Willy Russell's, Blood Brothers. Projecting an ethereal quality which befits a quieter moment after the preceding storm. Will Stapleton himself harmoniously channels the voice of humanity with his electrifying, and super-charged rendition of, Thunderchild. An electrifying song which tells of the battle between the Royal Navy Battleship of the same name. A vessel which engages Martian fighting machines in an almighty battle as they defend the steamer which carries the Journalist, and it's other passengers as they make their exodus from London. Last but not least is Ricky Wilson of Kaiser Chief's and, The Voice fame who channeling David Essex plays the Artilleryman with supreme confidence and vigour that is mesmerising.
Bold, brave and infinitely audacious, The New Generation ranks as quite possibly the crown jewel in Jeff Wayne's illustrious career for both it's technological and theatrical accomplishments. It's a statement I make as someone who had never really been a fan of the original concept album before, and given it any of the attention it richly deserves. The production should have as lengthy a stage run as one would hope for, and undoubtedly must make for an even more electrifying experience to witness live as it is was for me in my own home.