There is reason to be extra afraid this Halloween season as Martians invade the Earth when Western Carolina University presents a historically accurate re-creation of the radio drama “The War of the Worlds” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 30, in Western’s Fine and Performing Arts Center.
A joint production of WCU’s department of communication, department of stage and screen, Honors College and School of Music, and area broadcast professionals, the show will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the historic radio broadcast. In addition to the stage performance, the production will be broadcast live by WWNC-AM in Asheville.
The presentation will be accurate to the minute and second of the original show, said Don Connelly, head of the communication department and producer of the show. “It was a groundbreaking event showcasing the power of radio and showing how vulnerable the country was at that time,” said Connelly, who spent more than 25 years in managerial and on-air roles before coming to WCU from Clear Channel of Orlando.
Directing the show is Steve Carlisle, assistant dean of the Honors College. “This has been a lot of fun working on such a unique project. It feels a lot like the Little Rascals getting together to put a play on in the barn,” said Carlisle, a professional actor for more than 35 years including 25-plus seasons at the Flat Rock Playhouse.
For the show, the stage of Western’s Fine and Performing Arts Center will be transformed into CBS Studio One, where the Mercury Theater of the Air production of “The War of the Worlds” was staged that night in 1938. Professional stage and screen actors, broadcast faculty members, and current broadcasters and professional voice talent each will play several characters, just as did the cast in 1938, Connelly said.
The cast includes two-time Tony Award nominee Terrence Mann, WCU’s Phillips Distinguished Professor of Musical Theatre, reprising the role of Professor Pierson made famous by Orson Welles; Peter Savage, visiting instructor of stage and screen, who has worked in regional theatre along the East Coast; Terry Nienhuis, retired professor of English with a number of years of acting for stage, television and film; and Carlisle and Connelly.
Broadcast professionals from Clear Channel of Asheville – John Anderson, director of creative services, and Aaron D’Innocenzi, on-air personality and a WCU student – will have speaking roles and will create the sound effects. Nationally recognized voice talent Jeff Laurence also will have several speaking roles.
Bruce Frazier, WCU’s Belk Distinguished Professor of Commercial and Electronic Music, and music faculty members will perform as the live CBS orchestra. Former network television studio manager Pat Acheson, assistant professor of communication-broadcasting, will be in charge of lighting and sets. Susan Brown-Strauss, professor of stage and screen who has designed costumes for theaters in the South and Midwest, will coordinate the period costumes.
“The War of the Worlds,” the H.G. Wells story as told by Orson Welles, portrayed breaking news reports of a Martian invasion on Grover’s Mill, N.J., during an evening of music on the radio. Some listeners thought that an actual invasion was in progress, leading to panic and mass hysteria.
Western’s production will begin with at 7:30 p.m. with preshow music from “The Hit Parade” of 1938. No one will be admitted after that time because of the live broadcast over WWNC.
“We are looking forward to airing the program over WWNC. It is exciting for us and the community to re-create such a historical event in radio history, especially since our station was on the air at the time,” said Brian Hall, WWNC program director.
Tickets for the one-night-only public performance are $5, with proceeds benefiting departmental scholarship funds. For ticket information, contact the Fine and Performing Arts Center box office at (828) 227-2479.