Thursday, March 29, 2007

Starlight Express the musical

If you've never seen this musical, you've missed a lot! It's one of the most spectacular, let alone funniest, musical I've ever seen. It is a rock musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Richard Stilgoe. It has a spectacular choreography, since it is performed entirely on roller skates!

The music is spectacular too, don't get me wrong (I might be biased since I adore Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals :-) but what really strikes you is seeing those singers/dancers/acrobats on the skates. Indeed, the characters of the musical interpret trains!

This is the plot of the musical (borrowed from wikipedia page):

In a child’s dream, a racing tournament takes place on a model railway, with engines from all over the world competing. Representing the USA is Greaseball, an arrogant diesel locomotive who bears a strong resemblance to Elvis Presley, whose girlfriend is Dinah the dining car. He is accompanied by the Greaseball Gang, also diesel locomotives. In the yards lives Rusty, a steam engine who dreams of winning the race but who is seen as slow and old-fashioned by everyone else. He is in love with Pearl the observation car, but when he asks her out she turns him down. A late entry to the race is Electra, a state-of-the-art electric locomotive who bears some resemblance to David Bowie, with the Components, his own personal freight cars. He convinces Pearl to race with him. Poppa, an old steam engine and past racing champion, serves as Rusty's mentor. To bolster his confidence, he tells him the legend of the Starlight Express, a midnight train who helps engines in distress.

Dinah & Greaseball

In 1992 the plot was slightly changed, some characters were removed (e.g., Belle the sleeping car and BC), some songs were removed (e.g., "Only him") and others added (e.g., one of my favorite, "Next time you fall in love", which, like many of Webber's songs, immediately hits you, in spite of its simplicity)

Electra & his gang

I happened to see this musical, almost by chance, in 2000, at the Apollo theatre, near Victoria station, in London (when I was working in Cambridge). I knew basically nothing about it, and never heard any of its song. After the first song ("Rolling stock") I was already hit by the show and started to adore it and enjoy every minute of it. At the end of the show, I loved it!

The Coaches (Buffy: the buffet car, Ashley: the smoking car, Dinah: the dining car, Pearl: the observation car)

The show closed the year after (if I remember well) and started a UK tour, which is still on. Keep in mind that the stage in the theater was built especially for this show. Well, this is quite typical of London show (e.g., Cats) but in this case the stage spreads through the audience with many tracks throughout the theater that are by the trains... ehm... the actors when they perform the races (at high speed actually).

Greaseball & his gang

Then, in 2005, I went to Edinburgh for a conference... when I landed there, at the airport I happened to see a brochure saying the Starlight Express was touring there in those days! You can't imagine my surprise and happiness! Of course, I went to see the show (twice :-)

Pearl & Rusty

The tour version of the show is a little bit different, starting from the stage that could not be the same of the original one: you should change the theater almost completely. Thus, there were not tracks and the races were not actually performed live: they were shown on big screens in 3d (you get the special 3d glasses at the theater). The plot was changed too, and basically it was more similar to the original plot than to the 1992 plot. However, the cast was reduced, and some characters were missing (in particular, Belle, some national trains and some gangs characters). Some songs were changed too ("Lotta locomotion" was completely changed, in worse way, in my opinion) and "Next time you fall in love" was removed :-(

However, I enjoyed the show anyway, since it was still spectacular, and it was emotional to see one of my favorite musicals ever!

Here are some videos found on YouTube. They're not the most spectacular moments of the show, and it's not like being there, but you might get an idea :-)


"Whole lotta locomotion"

"I am the starlight" and "Light at the end of the tunnel"

"Next time you fall in love"

"Coda of Freight"

A race and the finale "Light at the end of the tunnel"

If this show ever comes near you, don't miss it! :-)