Review: The War of the Worlds – Art of Time Ensemble and Harbourfront Centre

By Sam Mooney

War of the Worlds at Harbourfront

I’ve often wondered if I would have been one of the people fleeing in terror part way through the broadcast of Orson Welles’ radio play in 1938. No one fled in terror tonight as we watched the Art of Time Ensemble production of The War of the Worlds; a live recreation of the Orson Welles 1938 broadcast adapted from the H. G. Wells’ book.

This was a two hour, two act presentation.  The first act was an instrumental suite based on the the film scores of Bernard Herrmann and the second act was The War of the Worlds.

Bernard Herrmann composed movie and television film scores and work extensively with Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles among many others. Don Parr composed and arranged Hermanntology based on Herrmann’s film music.  Projected behind the musicians there was a film mix by Tess Girard.

The music was wonderful and I was fascinated by the film mix, it was like a music mix by a D.J. but with film clips instead of music clips. I have to confess that I found myself thinking about the movies, remembering when I saw them; thinking that I’d like to see some of them again.  When I could tear myself away from the film mix I watched the musicians. There were only about 10 musicians but they sounded like more.

Watching The War of the Worlds was a bit strange for me. I love radio plays, I always have. Part of the appeal is that I get to make my own visuals.  Tonight’s show is a recreation of the broadcasting of a radio play. We get to see the actors, the director, the musicians and the Foley artist (the sound effects person), something that normally wouldn’t happen.

While one actor is delivering his lines into the microphone another is lighting a cigarette, drinking coffee, or taking off his jacket. Orson Welles directed and acted in the radio drama. Don McKellar as Welles moves around the studio (read stage) signalling to an actor to speed things up or nudging another closer to the mike.

Nicholas Campbell plays one of the three actors and as the actor plays 4 or 5 characters. The actor character has a hip flask and doses his coffee liberally.  He chats with the orchestra leader – played by Andrew Burashko who is also the director – when he isn’t at the microphone.

Marc Bendavid plays the third actor who plays the eager young radio reporter. They are all terrific.

The sound effects are by Foley artist John Gzowski.  I loved watching him.  No computer generated effects here, everything is low tech.

I enjoyed the evening.  The performances were all excellent. There was something missing though, for me. Unfortunately I was on my own and so didn’t have the normal post- performance discussion which often helps me when I have something niggling at the back of my mind.  I think what was missing for me was emotion. It was there in Hermanntology but not in The War of the Worlds. And I’m not sure how it could have been.  This isn’t a play within a play; it’s a play about a play, not the same thing at all.

One lovely thing, especially with the weekend coming, the show will appeal to a wide age-range. It’s a great opportunity to bring your kids to see some masters of Canadian music and theatre.


The War of the Worlds is playing at the Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront (235 Queens Quay West) until April 3rd, 2011
– Performances are at 8pm Friday and Saturday with a matinee at 2pm on Saturday and 4pm on Sunday
– Tickets prices range from $25.00 to $59.00 with discounts for students and seniors.
– Tickets are available from the box office by phone at (416) 973-4000 or online.

Photo of Nicholas Campbell, Don McKellar, Marc Bendavid with the Art of Time Ensemble by John Lauener