Jeff Wayne was born in Forest Hills, New York and discovered early in life two passions that have remained with him music and tennis. From age 5 he studied classical and later jazz piano, and was taught tennis by his singer-actor father Jerry, a national standard player.
He has become an award winning composer, arranger, conductor and producer for just about every medium and has composed and produced for a diverse range of artists including David Essex, The Who, Anthony Hopkins, The London Symphony Orchestra and Choir, Justin Hayward, to name but a few.
However, the work Jeff is probably most noted for is his musical interpretation of H.G. Wells classic science fiction story, The War of The Worlds. Released in June 1978 it became an instant success worldwide, and contained the hit singles The Eve of The War and Forever Autumn. It has also won two UK ‘Ivor Novello Awards and the USAs ‘Best Recording in Science Fiction and Fantasy (the judges included Alfred Hitchcock, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg).
In the summer of 2005, The War of The Worlds was re-launched and became one of the years biggest surprise hits, pushing UK sales to now over 3.5 million double albums and passing 15 million worldwide. It is now amongst the elite of longest running albums in UK chart history, currently around 310 weeks!
2006 saw the launch of The War of The Worlds Alive on Stage! a 15-date sold-out live multimedia arena tour of Great Britain with Jeff conducting the Black Smoke Band and 48-piece ULLAdubULLA strings with an internationally renowned cast of performers.
Back by phenomenal demand, the highly anticipated new production of Jeff Waynes multi-media extravaganza is set to return to major arenas around the UK and Europe in 2010/2011. Jason Donovan and Atomic Kittens Liz McClarnon will join Moody Blues Justin Hayward in what promises to be the musical event of the year bigger and more explosive than ever!
Reason enough for Music-News Claudia A. to crack some intergalactic myths with Jeff in the safe and plush surroundings of the Langham Hotel.
For the upcoming show you have added some new ‘ingredients incl. speciality performers,
The history of our tour is that every year, we are doing new tours and we keep adding new ingredients. Some things are more explosive, some are more subtle. For the new production, we have what is sort of a combination of a pre-show ingredient that links to a prequel. The prequel is what H.G. Wells never touched on by his own choice, and its ‘Why did the Martians decide to invade Earth?’
Are you allowed to reveal anything yet about the new ingredients?
In parts, sure! We came to a conclusion that the Martians had destroyed their own planet ecologically, like what we are doing to our planet currently. So it starts of with some new performance on stage and working with the audience as well. Theres all this debating by the local Astronomy Society which, at that point in the 1890s, just had started to appear. The exploration into the universe was brand new and caused a lot of interest. So theyre debating topics like ‘Could there be life on other planets or could there be life on Mars?’ So on stage, they got their telescopes and through their telescopes they can see something like a little flash, like something is going on, it could be a volcano or something like that. Gradually, the stage takes over both in sight and sound and becomes a physical storm, which blows out into the audience and part of the audience will be overtaken by the storm itself. That connects into a new three-minute animated sequence that shows this on a big screen. We have a 100-foot wide screen that shows a combination of animated and live-action film that we made specifically for the production.
Tell me about the design of the Martian fighting machine. Was it difficult to construct it, as obviously, it needs to fit into different-sized venues,
Yes indeed, thats a good question actually. Every venue, as you just pointed out, is different is size and shape and even the height to the ceiling is always different. The design is based on a painting that came with my original album. It has become iconic to those who know both the album and H.G. Wells story its very much described as his creation. We have four that first appear in animated form and then a fifth one appears that we hear about in the way the story is unfolding. It has been hiding first and then descends upon the stage and is firing its main weapon the heat ray at the audience. Then its eyes light up and scan the audience, like they are the next victims of the Martians. So there is interaction with the audience.
The design of the fighting machine is a skill of engineering because it weighs just over three tons at full extension The majority of the venues where you get the height is just over 35-feet tall, but each of the legs is designed to be telescopic, so in arenas that dont give us the full extension it cuts down. We also had to take into consideration that the audience who sit on either side of arenas and venues can see the machine in full when it lands on stage. The machine actually becomes almost a stage character, it fully functions and it moves. I conduct the show and I have a ten-piece band and a forty-piece string orchestra and when the fighting machine is descending, it is literally over us and well, it does take your attention away when its coming down. You just keep thinking, ‘Its not going to keep going, is it,.’.
How did the casting of Jason Donovan as the Artillery Man come about?
Well, some of the cast are the same performers and others are new ones. I start casting by thinking, ‘Who would be perfect for singing and performing such and such character’ which is what most would do. Then the team and I assemble a small wish list. For this coming tour, Jason came up as someone whose work I simply admire and previously Ive seen him perform. It happened that a friend of his, Gary Barlow from Take That, introduced Jason to the album apparently just before we approached Jason. Gary pointed out that the part of the Artilleryman would be ideal for him and so it was good fortune that without me knowing it I had the support and admiration of a mega-artist whose talents no one is going to question. So an arrangement was made for Jason and his manager to come over to my studio and we just chatted and got on really well and we took it from there. Jason is great and a joy to work with. Ive never worked with anyone so prepared, he just walked into the studio and I mean, heres a guy whos doing eight shows a week in the West End and he DJs and on Sundays, hes on Heart FM its a full-on career! He knew the whole part by heart and he is very easy to work with. Hes any easy-going guy.
Justin Hayward (ex-Moody Blues) already featured on the original album and has been part of the stage productions. Hell also feature in the new show who would have been your alternative choice would he not have been available?
We carry with us two understudies, one is female who can play Beth (which is the part Atomic Kitten Liz McClarnen is playing) and then we have a male understudy who understudies all the male parts. So thats your answer.
The first stage version of your musical piece was in 2006. It must have been an enormous task to transfer the concepts onto stage,
Absolutely! I started working with a couple of people who were skilled in live presentation, like a director and an art director who worked with me on a storyboard. So essentially, if you saw our storyboard, it has every discipline in the show and an image for just about every moment. So I broke it down to understand the story in visual terms. I knew my score, even though Ive added bits and pieces along the way, but the storyboard was my starting point. It remains to this day the document that every person works to and when we add new things, thats what they work to as well. It really was the foundation that allowed us to create the show in a very short space of time. We knew we were going to play arenas, so they have a scale thats obviously quite different to, say, symphony halls or West End type theatres. We have a production manager who has drawings of every such venue in the world, practically. Then the set designer has to build a set that can work to any type of stage. In fact, we now travel with our own stage so you get the new stage that comes with the venue and on top of that, we have our own stage that makes the rigging and de-rigging faster. It allows us to add special effects because you have five or six feet underneath that you can work with, for trap doors and lifts and so forth. Its all exceedingly complex and you really need to have a ‘Plan B, a so-called safety net in case something goes wrong. On the technical scale we are on, it would be like the Titanic going down, is it going to sink or will it last,
What is it that fascinates you about the story of War Of The Worlds and why do you think it appeals to readers and audiences alike?
For me its timeless, although I actually didnt know the book to start with. I grew up in New York when I was a boy, watching daytime television and occasionally, a movie from the 50s appeared called War Of The Worlds and it was about a modern alien invasion. That was what I thought the story was about, until I discovered this incredible Victorian tale by a seminal English author who had both vision in science and the fantasy of imagination. And what I liked is that H.G. Wells created his Martians with tentacles and that they represented the tentacles of power. And here in Britain, it was the height of the British Empire when the story came out. What Wells was saying was that even if its your own country, misusing power is wrong. So even though he was creating this incredible fantastical story, he was taking it apart and used it metaphorically for political and social criticism. If you look at nowadays situation or simply history, the real threats were always caused by one nation invading another so it really is a timeless topic that everyone can relate to.
Obviously, youve seen the 1953 movie version. Did you also see the Steven Spielberg version and if so, what did you think?
Well, youre talking to a guy that fell in love with the original Victorian tale. Both movies and other renditions of ‘War Of The Worlds have always, for whatever the reasons, been put into contemporary America. The plots changed the heart of the storyline and also changed the characters around to the point where I don’t recognize it as the story that I fell in love with. I would have liked to have the 180 Million dollars to produce our own movie version of my musical, like Mr. Spielberg and Tom Cruise made theirs. Theyre great filmmakers of course, but did they make a film of quality? They probably did, but I dont quite recognise it as Wells story.
Many thanks for the interview and I look forward to the show!
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