"Ladies and gentleman, we interrupt our program of dance music to bring you a special bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News..."
It was with those simple words, read on a radio broadcast on the evening of Oct. 30, 1938, that Orson Welles turned a classic British sci-fi tale from 1897 into what the next-day papers described as a real-life modern American panic.
But that's not the only famed audio version of The War of the Worlds, British sci-fi and fantasy author H.G. Wells' compelling dramatization of an alien invasion on Earth. In 1978, the tale was brought back home to Britain when composer Jeff Wayne released Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, a prog rock concept album that told the story through both narration and song. This extraterrestrial rock opera sold millions of copies, starred famed Shakespearan actor Richard Burton as its narrator, and inspired a 1990's Playstation video game, a laser light show, and a 2016 stage production on London's West End.
So it is with extreme pride (and no panic) (as Douglas Adams would say: "Don't panic!") that we at SYFY WIRE present this exclusive clip of the latest version from Jeff Wayne, starring, as Narrator, none other than Michael Sheen (who we've all been enjoying so much in the Good Omens trailer alongside David Tennant).
The new version, to be released as an Audible Original on Nov. 29 and titled Jeff Wayne's The War of The Worlds: The Musical Drama, is a completely new re-telling of the invasion story co-produced by Audible and Wayne himself. It features the voice talent of Sheen as well as Taron Egerton (The Kingsman), Theo James (the Divergent franchise), Adrian Edmondson (creepy First Order Captain Peavey in The Last Jedi), and more.
H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds was originally published as a 19th century magazine serial, before it was adapted as a radio drama by a different Welles (Orson) in 1938. Even though the radio theater broadcast began with a clear caveat ("The Columbia Broadcasting System... present[s] Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air...") it was reported at the time to have scared some listeners so much that they jumped in their cars to flee the area of the supposed attack. (Which was, by the way, New Jersey.)
Modern revisionists have claimed that the hysteria was hyped up by the papers of the time, and that many folks were probably listening to a popular radio show by a ventriloquist at the time of the broadcast (how a person can be a ventriloquist on the radio has yet to be explained), cutting down on the numbers of people who would have been actually believing aliens had invaded Earth. But any which way, mass hysteria or minor hysteria or just people enjoying a really great radio play, the broadcast turned the story into a modern classic, later spawning a 1953 film that won an Academy Award for visual effects, a 2005 film adaptation by Steven Spielberg starring Tom Cruise, and an upcoming BBC mini-series, expected this December.
So, don't be fooled like the newspapers of 1938 (or the folks who listened to radio ventriloquists, for that matter) but do get ready to be very entertained, as both the music and the cast in this upcoming audio release sound pretty out of this world.