(LENOX, Mass.) – Orson Welles’s legendary radio dramatization of H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds that caused panic among listeners who mistook the fictionalized program about an alien invasion for an authentic news bulletin when first broadcast on Halloween in 1938 has now been wrought for the stage and is being presented by Shakespeare & Company through November 6. Adapted by Howard Koch and drawing ample inspiration from Welles’s radio stunt, this War of the Worlds, produced in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre and directed by artistic director Tony Simotes, goes behind the scenes of that fateful broadcast and stars company favorites Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Jonathan Croy, David Joseph, Josh Aaron McCabe, Dana Harrison, and Scott Renzoni.
In a time before televisions and iPhone apps, Americans relied on their radios for entertainment, and more importantly, their news. On Sunday, October 30, 1938, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre shocked the wireless listening audience with their broadcast of War of the Worlds, a tale based on H.G. Wells’s classic novel of the same name. This special Halloween transmission reported about Martians landing on Earth and destroying everything that lay in their path. By presenting this fictional alien yarn realistically, Welles allegedly sparked a nationwide panic among the program’s nearly six million listeners.
Shakespeare & Company artistic director Tony Simotes directs a veteran cast who will play a variety of outrageous roles in the retelling of this classic story, which has been reimagined for Berkshire audiences. Simotes also has plans to include special guest broadcasters throughout the run of War of the Worlds, including a bevy of local and out-of-town talents. An entertaining hybrid of old radio and live theatre, War of the Worlds will feature music, dancing, singing, and live commercial breaks.
“In keeping with our traditional Fall Season offerings, I wanted to give our audiences not only intrigue and suspense, but something unique and prophetically haunting,” says Simotes. “I think this wonderful twist of theater and reality accomplishes that. Little did the listening audience realize that Welles’s 1930s iconic broadcast came as the nation stood on the brink of war. We’ve had a terrific rehearsal process, with the entire cast working together to create an incredible array of special sound effects and storytelling. And it’s such a treat to have Michael Pfeiffer, our sound designer, out from behind the curtain and in full view of the audience, as he shows off his ‘sound effects.’ With his help, we’ve been able to create an amalgamation of radio and heart-stopping theater, and provide our own take on this classic tale.”
Says Pfeiffer, “I’m looking forward to the challenge of blending traditional radio technology with our state-of-the-art resources. It’s great to be onstage with such a talented and wonderful group of actors, and to be able to continue to support them in the company’s latest creation. We’ve had a really fun time using a lot of everyday tools, toys, and gadgets, including an electric razor, a shop fan, a bicycle tire, and even a rubber chicken.”
War of the Worlds plays in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre from September 9 through November 6. Tickets are $12-$49, and Shakespeare & Company offers a wide range of discount options, including discounts for groups, students, senior citizens, military, teachers and the very popular 40% Berkshire Resident Discount. To view a complete schedule, receive a brochure, or inquire about discounts, call the Box Office at 413. 637.3353 or visit Shakespeare & Company. The Bernstein Theatre is wheelchair accessible and hearing aid assisted.