Starlight Express is a sung-through rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Richard Stilgoe (lyrics), with later revisions by Don Black and David Yazbek. It is perhaps most well known for its spectacular choreography, performed entirely on roller skates.
Conceived in the late 1970s by Lloyd Webber as a fairytale for his then young children, Starlight Express became one of the Mega Musicals of the 1980s.
Popular Musical Numbers
The 4 hit tracks are "Starlight Express", "Light at the End of the Tunnel", "AC-DC", "I am the Starlight" and "Only you".
The initial production opened at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, London on March 27 1984, directed by Trevor Nunn with choreography by Arlene Phillips and design by John Napier. The theatre was heavily rebuilt to include a race track that extends into the stalls and around the front of the dress circle on which the characters 'race'. In November 1992, the London production was re-launched featuring heavy revisions to material, partly influenced by the subsequent productions described below. Many fans consider that the revamp damaged the spirit of the show. Christened The New Starlight Express, the production closed on January 12 2002, having played 7406 performances. Cast members included Stephanie Lawrence, Frances Ruffelle, John Partridge and Jo Gibb and Scary Spice was rumoured to have tried out for a role.
Broadway, New York
On 15 March 1987, a second production opened at the Gershwin Theatre, New York, featuring revisions to the show’s plot and musical numbers including the addition of the new songs, Engine of Love and Make Up My Heart as well as dropping No Comeback, Call Me Rusty and He Whistled At Me. It was deemed a failure, possibly due to its origins, its flashiness, but Andrew Lloyd Webber felt that it would have succeeded if it had been released off-Broadway. It lasted 761 performances ending January 8, 1989.
On June 12, 1988, a third production opened at a specially built venue, the Starlighthalle, in Bochum, Germany. As of April 2006 it is the only permanent production playing and on 5th April played to its 11,111,111th visitor.
From 1987 to 1989, a large scale production, in-the-round toured arenas in Japan and Australia. The tour began November 15, 1987 and ended May 8, 1989.
1990 Japanese Tour
From March 24 - July 18, Starlight Express toured Japan.
1st North American Tour
In 1990, a downscaled production toured in the US and Canada beginning May 23 and ending September 30.
On 14 September 1993, a production opened at the Las Vegas Hilton, which played until 30 November 1997 before being replaced by Star Trek: The Experience. The show was shortened to 90 minutes in length with no interval, with much of the material cut to shorten the show.
Starlight on Ice
A completely re-designed production played in the United States in 1997. The soundtrack was entirely pre-recorded, the performers onstage being mostly non-singers who mimed along whilst performing a set heavy on choreography.
From 29 October 1997 to April 1998, a Spanish-language production played at the Teatro Polanco in Mexico City. A cast recording was made but owing to complications with the rights, never officially released.
2nd US Tour
Following the closure of the London production, Lloyd Webber announced a new production to open in Biloxi in 2003. Entitled Starlight Express: The Third Dimension, the touring production was a downscaled and shortened version of the show, with further revisions to the material by the American lyricist David Yazbek including a new song, A Whole Lotta Locomotion, in place of A Lotta Locomotion and a more updated Rap. Owing to the restrictions of touring theatres, the production commissioned digital video company Inition to produce high definition race footage in 3D to replace the live racing. The show began April 1, 2003 and ended June 13, 2004.
In late 2004, a non-equity tour based largely on the 2nd US Tour opened in Manchester. The tour detracted much from the plot, and the idea of "family fun". Instead of using the old London costumes, the coaches in particular became all the more like Vegas showgirls. Even though the production is still playing, there has been a break in late 2005 and the majority of the cast changed to come back in early 2006 to perform in the theatres missed in the 2005 part of the tour.
From July 2006 until August 2006 Starlight Express appeared in Dublin's Point Theatre. The show was known as Andrew Lloyd Webber's, Starlight Express, The Third Dimension.
The first amateur production was mounted in April 2006 by Fairfield High School in Fairfield, Ohio after one of the directors, Jay Muldoon, made a personal appeal to Andrew Lloyd Webber. The production was regarded as a prototype for the potential release of the show materials to other amateur companies, and was videotaped by the Really Useful Group for reference purposes.
Although the material has been heavily altered since the original production, the overarching plot remains the same: in a child’s dream, a racing tournament takes place on a model railway. This race is entered by engines from all over the world. 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, with the Components, his own personal freight cars. He bears some resemblance to David Bowie. He convinces Pearl to race with him.
Greaseball wins the first heat by cheating. He trips Rusty, causing him to crash. Dinah objects, and Greaseball dumps her.
Poppa, an old steam engine and past racing champion, tries to persuade Rusty to keep racing. But Rusty's confidence is completely shattered, and he refuses. Poppa tells him the legend of the Starlight Express, a midnight train who helps engines in distress, but Rusty remains unconvinced.
Poppa enters the next heat in his place, but in doing so causes himself some serious damage. His sacrifice wins Rusty a place in the final alongside Electra, Greaseball and the French train, Bobo (or in the German production, Weltschaft/Ruhrgold).
Rusty prays to the Starlight Express for help. The train appears to him and tells him that he doesn't need any supernatural help - all he needs is the confidence to believe in himself. Fired up with enthusiasm, Rusty seeks a carriage or wagon to race with him, as required by the rules. He finds the shy and overweight aggregate hopper, Dustin, who readily agrees to race.
In the final, Rusty and Dustin come in first place. Steam is the champion of the day. Greaseball humbly accepts his fate and apologises to Dinah, and she accepts him once more, but Electra leaves in an infuriated fit of bruised ego. Meanwhile, Rusty seeks Pearl. With his new-found confidence, he again asks her out. She realises that he is the one she loves, and they return to the other engines. Poppa leads them in a final triumphant song.
The initial idea behind Starlight Express was that Andrew Lloyd Webber planned to produce a musical movie adaptation of Rev W. Awdry's Railway Series books. This plan fell through, as Awdry felt that Lloyd Webber wanted a greater degree of creative control than he was prepared to give. A legacy of this early scheme is the Really Useful Company, named in reference to a catchphrase used in several of the books.
Lloyd Webber was interested in developing the idea of a musical about trains further, and conceived what he described as "a Cinderella story". Rusty may be seen to take the place of Cinderella, Greaseball and Electra the Ugly Sisters and the Starlight Express the fairy godmother.