Verdict: Excellent. It wasn't as exhilarating as I had set it up in my mind, but it was well worth seeing.
The Prolog. What was that about? As if the production team were inspired by the opening scenes of Lilo & Stitch, they had a sequence in which the Martians - in appropriately alien English-language voices - lamented their sustainability problems and planned their attack on Earth. Not necessary.
In the original (musical version - I haven't yet read the book), everything is from our (human) perspective. The Martians remain mysterious and foreign. Sure, there's the line "slowly and surely, they drew their plans against us", but I had always taken that as an assumption based on observation: we learn that they're attacking when characters burst into flames, not because we have insight into the life of Martians on Mars.
Music-wise, I would have liked to have seen some close-ups of the orchestra on the big screen. I can understand why they didn't: there was plenty of other material, and for most people close-ups of the singers was adequate addition to the visual feast of animated and pre-filmed scenes. But seeing the music come to life was a selling point for me, so I hired some binoculars for the second half.
Another unavoidable side-effect of a touring show is the restriction on orchestra size. The stage was split between the band (guitars, bass, harp, percussion) and the strings (violins, cellos, etc.) and they were all excellent. There was enough variation from the album to make it feel like I wasn't just sitting at home listening on an iPod. Highlights included seeing 4-5 cellists playing in sync dramatically, plus the energy of the long-haired band member as she moved from harp to drums to tambourine, etc. Still, a lot of the more unusual music from the album was a pre-record and it would've been nice to see it played. As I said - unavoidable.
Last complaint: the ending. The stirring epilogue played and cut out as expected, but I think the effect would have been greater had a total blackout accompanied the silence. It was dim - but there were still lights, such as the green eye of the fighting machine.
Geez, I really didn't intend for the preceding section to be so long! The production was excellent, and I don't want you thinking my night was ruined. To the contrary, it was well worth going.
Top singers were Rachel Beck as Beth and Michael Falzon as the Artilleryman. I don't recall hearing of him before, but he played the part with originality and personality, and he sounded great on the high notes in "all over agaaaain!"... Nice also seeing Jeff Wayne bopping along on as he conducted.
Lots of good visuals, largely based on the original artwork that accompanied the album. Good use of lighting (think heat-ray aimed at the audience) and other effects. And of course, sound (although microphones cut out in a few spots). Loud, but not ear-shattering, the sound was great, except for a couple of quieter moments when Richard Burton's voice echoed across the vast stadium from distant speakers. My favourite trick was the use of bass to let us feel the impact of some fighting scenes. Not painful or audible, but readily felt.
Oh, and the Richard Burton head was much better than I had imagined. Photos I'd seen online made it look like they were projecting his image onto a giant polystyrene head. Maybe they did it differently in the UK. Here, it was rear projection onto a large clear screen, fading on and of as needed. It was plastic, but looked like silk from the other side of the venue. Although it had a not-quite-natural feel to it it, indicating that CGI had been used, it was rather life-like and effective. Even if it did remind me of Dave Hughes somehow...
All in all, a delightful evening, even with the creative differences between Jeff and me, the tossers who thought they were as a sports match and got up part way through to go buy multiple large plastic cups of drinks, the speakers blocking some of the screen, and the turning in my seat to face the stage.
I bumped into David and Sam after the show. Tens of thousands of people there, and I still managed to bump into a cousin of Theresa. The size of that family is just insane!