Musical production based on cult Jeff Wayne album
The aliens are coming! The aliens are coming!For the past few years, the U.K., Europe, Australia and New Zealand have been visited by an arena tour of a musical version of “The War of the Worlds,” toplined by an 11-foot tall hologram of Richard Burton. The production is based on a cult 1978 double-album by Jeff Wayne, who conducts the arena shows. The two-disc set doesn’t have much of a profile Stateside, but is well-known internationally, where the concept album hit the Top 10 in 22 countries. It eventually spawned a series of club remixes in 2005 that helped propel the original album back into the U.K. Top 10 for 11 weeks. The arena staging, which has been around since 2006, includes a 35-foot Martian fighting machine based on the album’s original cover design. Burton is part of the package because he played the narrator — a journalist recounting his experience of an alien invasion — on the double LP. For the tour, the legendary actor, whose voice is lifted from the recording, is physically re-created through a combo of “Avatar”-esque motion capture and hologram tech. Movements are provided by Brian Mallon, an Irish thesp who honed the impersonation in his solo show “Playing Burton.” Also starring on the tour: the Moody Blues’ Justin Hayward, who sang on the original album. He’s real, not a hologram. Hayward just wrapped the 2009 arena tour, and will reprise his role as one of five performers who appear alongside holo-Burton for the upcoming 2010-11 tour of the U.K. and Europe. After that, America beckons. Producer Damian Collier is in Los Angeles, in part to begin laying the groundwork; a December PBS broadcast of a 2006 concert at Wembley Arena was a step toward introducing American auds to the tuner. “It was the logical launchpad for thinking about a U.S. tour,” Collier says. A recent order from the Federal Communications Commission will have Broadway consequences, but the potential hassle comes with a silver lining. The FCC’s order, issued Jan. 15, officially forbade all wireless mic systems from operating on the 700 MHz frequency, clearing it for public safety communication services and for use by next-gen wireless devices. The mics affected by the ruling include live sports events, churches and, yes, Broadway theaters. Wireless mics, of course, are an integral part of the day-to-day running of legit tuners, with mics not only amplifying actors’ voices but also used by backstage crew. On the upside, legiters have known this ruling was a possibility for the past couple of years, so many shows already have taken steps to steer clear of 700 MHz. Still, some older shows may need to shell out coin to update their mics. But what’s most encouraging about the order, says Tom Ferrugia, the Broadway League’s director of government relations, is an indication that the FCC is amenable to expanding the pool of wireless mic users eligible for licenses that help protect from the encroaching demands of other wireless devices wanting to use the same frequencies. Right now, eligibility extends only to mics for film and TV, and only those used for actual production needs. But there’s a possibility Broadway could receive similar protections. That dovetails nicely with another FCC proceeding that has Broadway fallout — the 2008 approval of “spectrum-sensing devices,” which producers and presenters worry will wreak havoc on the operations of Broadway’s wireless mics. In the meantime, the League (and others affected by the latest order) are asking for more time to comply beyond the June 12 deadline. If it must be done by then, however, Ferrugia believes they can do it. “It’s an engineering challenge, but it’s manageable,” he says.