Review: The War of the Worlds at Nottingham’s Capital FM Arena

The incredible show that is Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds – Alive on Stage left Nottingham’s Capital FM Arena stunned and in awe after a spectacle that few shows could dare to dream of creating last night.

Every time it goes on the road down the years, this show gets bigger and better and this, touted as the last tour of the show, was the biggest and best so far.

The scale of its ambition was incredible, yet it hit every height it aimed for.

For the uninitiated, War of the Worlds is somewhere halfway between a West End musical and a prog-rock show.

It is a giant movie in which, instead of 3D, you have some real stars onstage in front of the screen and amazing special effects, including a three tonne, 35ft-high Martian Fighting Machine spraying flames that you can feel the heat from halfway back and a giant ‘steampunk’ bridge descending from the ceiling.

This is the closest most of us are going to come to actually being part of a sci-fi movie.

The proximity and scale of the action is quite humbling and it’s hard not to feel huge emotions surging as the story unfolds, particularly with the amazing 5.1 live mixed surround sound system that enveloped you and made you feel even more a part of proceedings.

We didn’t get Tom Cruise from the 2005 Hollywood remake of the original War of the Worlds movie. But we did get some pretty big eye candy for the ladies as onstage we had the golden voices of the likes of Jason Donovan, Shayne Ward and Brian McFadden.

Grinning composer and producer New Yorker Jeff Wayne conducted the 36-piece ULLAdubULLA Strings Orchestra to the right of the stage with the incredible nine-piece Black Smoke Band, featuring musicians of the legendary quality of Herbie Flowers and Chris Spedding to the left, combining to make an incredible soundtrack.

The show even featured a new Wayne song – Life Begins Again.

The story was narrated by the magnificent voice of Liam Neeson, appearing as a hologram in two locations onstage and, new to this tour, we also had Callum O’Neill playing War of the Worlds author H.G. Wells.

Wells wrote the apocalyptic novel in 1897 and he introduced it as Wells at the age of 33, but on subsequent visits to the stage after visiting make-up, he aged to become 53 and finally 79.

His were added parts to the old show, ending with him talking about the two real-life World Wars and warning the young members of the audience that a peaceful future was in their hands.

The War of the Worlds story tells of the Martian invasion of Earth which seems to be the end of mankind, no matter how big a weapon humans can retaliate with, only for the most humble creatures on earth, bacteria, to eventually see off the green monsters from the red planet in the end. That is how dangerous man-flu really is folks.

Biggest cheer of the night at the end went to Jason Donovan, who played Parson Nathaniel, though Westlife’s Brian McFadden as The Sung Thoughts of The Journalist, and X Factor 2005 winner Shayne Ward as the Artilleryman were not too far behind him after stunning performances, both singing and acting.

Les Miserables’ Carrie Hope Fletcher, as Beth, Parson Nathaniel’s Wife,and X Factor 2013’s Joseph Whelan, as The Voice of Humanity, completed the real life characters backed by a cast of hundreds on the 100ft- wide animation wall screen.

Highlight of the night for most was the appearance of the incredible Martian Fighting Machine twice landing on stage while firing its real flame Heat Ray over the heads of the audience, its climax being blowing up a NASA scientist and his desk onstage.

But very moving also was the death of Beth as she floated off into the roof of the arena as her husband tried to hold her after her passing.

Also incredibly moving was the song Forever Autumn, which saw hundreds of paper leaves floating down from the roof of the arena onto the audience.

For those near the front, the Martian Heat Ray probably left them needing a few new eyebrows while, for everyone else, there were tears and wonder and a hope that one day in the future Jeff Wayne may change his mind and, with whatever new technology has been invented, bring this show out once again to blow our minds.

JOHN LOMAS