Review: The Brilliantly Creative Yuval Sharon Brings a Modern WORLD OF THE WORLDS Radio Show to the Disney Concert Hall
On Saturday, November 18, 2017, I attended the world premiere operatic, four-site adaptation of WAR OF THE WORLDS, adapted and directed by Yuval Sharon, with music by Annie Gosfield, co-produced by The Industry and NOW Art. The production was based on the original radio play by Howard Koch, which when performed by Orson Welles terrified the nation into believing Martians had landed in New Jersey.
Performed in unison within the Disney Concert Hall and at three refurbished air raid siren sites in the nearby downtown LA area, from where news bulletin reports were acted out and reported in, the entire experience was both breathtaking and mind-blowing and certainly one I will never forget.
I decided the best way to "see" the entire production was to experience it at both the Disney Concert Hall and at one of the siren sites. So I first attended the presentation at Siren Site 1 at noon, set atop the parking structure just to the east of the Disney Concert Hall with the beautiful LA Skyline surrounding us on all 4 sides. The Los Angeles Times building and City Hall provided the backdrop to the staging area, with the top of the Disney Concert Hall visible behind the audience. From this vantage point, the actors checked the city streets below as they reported in about the strange happenings going on around us as the Martian invasion takes place.
The other two sites, like this one, were located in the nearby downtown area where actors portrayed characters reporting in remotely during the show, each of whom communicated with the main performance space at the Disney Concert Hall, making the entire production like a much-more technically inclined radio show with the off-site reports only heard within the Disney Hall rather than also being seen, creating a modern "theatre-of-the-mind" experience.
The former Air Raid Sirens used are the 1940s original ones installed during WWII to alert LA citizens of an impending enemy attack. The same sirens were modified and re-used in the 1950s to alert citizens of an impending nuclear strike by the Russians during the Cold War. I certainly remember doing "drop drills" as a child in elementary school when the sirens were tested, getting under our desks, turning away from the windows, and putting our hands over our necks. But even back then, I knew any radioactive bomb dropped on Los Angeles would be the death of us all.
The three downtown LA sirens were completely refurbished - the siren "heads" were detached, and old rusted and rotting parts were removed and replaced with new Meyer Sound speakers for the performance, allowing the live music and presentation from the Disney Hall to be heard at all 3 sites, with each of the Siren Sites performances shared audibly with the audience in the Disney Concert Hall in real time. And it is from these sirens that the Martians launch their attack, alerted vocally by La Sirena that the time to attack has arrived.
To complete the experience, at 2pm I attended the full WAR OF THE WORLDS presentation within the Disney Concert Hall, narrated from this site by Sigourney Weaver with Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Christopher Rountree leading the musicians at all sites. Ms. Weaver began by announcing tonight's music selection by Annie Gosfield, based on a journey through our solar system, beginning with the Sun. But interruptions soon alerted her that a lot more than music was being communicated from the Plant Mars in the form of an alien invasion as it unfolded at and reported in from the three Siren sites.
Adding to the other worldly atmosphere within the Disney Concert Hall was singer Hila Plitmann as La Sirena, the blue-skinned Martian whose high-pitched warbling, along with Joanne Pearce Martin on Theremin and Matthew Howard on percussion, added in to the distinct science fiction mood. Others actors at this site included David Castillo as the Officer, James Hayden as the Commander/Sound Designer, and Jon Keenan as Gunner/Stage Hand.
While the sound, singers, and lighting effects were outstanding, the thing that blew my mind was near the end when the Disney Concert Hall was being attacked by an invading Martian ship and the bright white flashing lights streaming in from all the windows at the top of the hall above the audience really made the attack feel real, with many audience members looking up and gasping! Thankfully, the titanium in the walls rebuffed the attack and we survived! Kudos to all the technical staff for their outstanding contributions to this massive, creative undertaking, performed to perfection.
I cannot commend Yuval Sharon enough for yet another magnificently entertaining, site-specific operatic presentation he created and directed. His imagination seems to know no bounds, given his other Industry shows, including INVISIBLE CITIES performed with a live on-site orchestra at Union Station while actors and singers on headsets performing scenes around the station were simultaneously broadcast with the orchestra through headsets worn by each travelling audience member. Whichever actors you chose to follow were the episodes you got to see as the story of what happened when Marco Polo met Chinese Emperor Kublai Khan!
Then the Industry presented HOPSCOTCH, with audience members travelling around the greater downtown LA area in specially-fitted limousines which took us to different sites in the city to witness scenes telling an unfolding love story - although not in chronological order. At a central hub in East LA, 24 scenes were set up where visitors could watch all the scenes taking place at the same time, as well as listen to many musicians who were accompanying the others traveling with the audience in limos to the various sites. I am still amazed each time I remember that experience, and now cannot wait for the next amazing adventure to be created by Mr. Sharon, the Industry's mastermind creator and director of the most incredible theatrical presentations now being done in Los Angeles. Learn more at https://theindustryla.org.
Photo Credit: Craig T. Mathew and Greg Grudt/Mathew Imaging