War of the Worlds

War of the Worlds

No, not red vs blue, think bigger! In 1898 HG Wells, one of the founding fathers of the Sci-Fi genre “gifted” us with some incredibly imaginative thinking about an alien invasion, bringing a whole new (ahem) alien concept into sharp focus and leaving us howling at whatever planet suited our fancy.

It took the genius of Orson Wells to turn that story into a radio drama in 1939, when his troop of players, the Mercury Theater, performed a live version of it on the air. This time, it was far more realistic. Using cutting edge tech – radio broadcast – and cutting edge techniques – sound effects, live orchestra, inspired performances – he simulated an invasion of Earth by wicked, up-to-no-good Martian invaders, whose advanced weaponry promptly flattened our puny defenses, dispatching with great swaths of humanity, as onscene reporters, bystanders and military brass helplessly intoned the bad news in real time.

One of the coolest concepts that give the show a more believable bent was to use a small live orchestra, whose job was to play insipid dance music, simulating a normal evening radio broadcast, only to be repeatedly interrupted with breathless reports uttering “We interrupt this broadcast to bring you this special bulletin” or even more convincing: “We now return to our program of evening music…” at which point the (really awful) dance music midst would be cut back into.

The effect was electrifying, so much so, that it caused actual panic in the streets, with people spilling out of their homes, armed with guns and pitchforks. Heady stuff.

Now comes the latest iteration of the show (which was redone as 2005 Spielberg feature with Tom Cruise), a War of the Worlds OPERA (!) staged by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, based on the Mercury Theater broadcast, based on the book. The company has gone so far as to schedule not only the premier performance at Disney Hall in downtown LA, but a simulcast at three additional yet-to-be-announced outdoor public spaces, where a live actor will take to a makeshift stage and perform along with the live show. This will be done via loudspeakers mounted on poles built to hold the original 50-year old air raid sirens that were installed back in the days of the Red Scare. Quaint!

Just bought tickets (including the $14 per ticket convenience charge) and can’t wait to go next week. Stay tuned for broadcast interruptions.

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