Theatre Review: Brighton Centre: Starlight Express: Magnificent entertainment!

Besi Besemar January 3, 2013

WEB.600.Starlight Express - Full Company - credit Eric Richmond

Starlight Express was conceived during the 1970s. Andrew Lloyd Webber wanted to write a musical adaptation of Rev W. Awdry’s, railway series books, featuring Thomas the Tank Engine. However, Awdry and Lloyd Webber could not come to terms over the use of the characters, Awdry feeling Lloyd Webber wanted too much freedom with Thomas, the other engines and characters in general. Lloyd Webber withdrew and re-conceived the concept as ‘A Cinderella Story’ with Rusty as Cinderella, Greaseball and Electra as the ugly sisters and Starlight Express the fairly godmother. Starlight Express was born!

Richard Stilgoe wrote the lyrics, Arlene Philips produced the choreography and Trevor Nunn directed what became one of the longest running shows in the West End (7,461 performances). It made less of an impact on Broadway where it ran for 761 performances.

WEB.600.Starlight Express - Mykal Rand as Electra - credit Eric Richmond

The producer of this stunning trouring production is Bill Kenwright and the show is choreographed and directed with considerable skill by Arlene Phillips.

In the original London production the Apollo Theatre in Victoria in London was adapted considerably to accommodate the train tracks which ran around the theatre for the races. In this touring production the races are played out on a big screen in 3D. You get a countdown warning of ten to put your 3D glasses on. The 3D effects are very effective and add to the excitement and pace of the overall production.

The story follows a childs dream in which his toy train set comes to life. The story is played out by actors who are trains and coaches on roller skates. Rusty is the steam engine who longs to win the race. Poppa, a loveable retired champion engine. Greaseball, a macho diesel locomotive and the reigning champion. Electra isthe new challenger, “the Engine of the Future”.

In what is essentially a good old fahsioned love story, the main love interest is between Pearl, the Observation Car who catches Rusty’s eye and eventually falls in love with him. Dinah the Dining Car is Pearl’s best friend. Buffy the Buffet Car is smart and sassy, hot cheap and quick. Belle the Sleeping Car in an old luxurious Pullman. Duvay is the Sleeper car. Enough said!

I missed the original production of Starlight Express so when I saw this production at the Mayflower theatre in Southampton last month I was genuinely bowled over. It was spectacular. The songs are memorable, classic pop songs, with a few Lloyd Webber pastiche numbers mixed in. The creative staging is simple yet highly effective. The lighting is magnificent and the acting performances top notch.

In an ensemble piece such as this where every performance was on the money it is unfair to single individual performers out. However, Kristofer Harding’s Rusty is eager and believable as is his love interest Pearl. I actually shed a tear at the end. Yes I cried over two trains but the performer overcame the restriction of playing trains and the headpieces they wore and made their characters believable. Lothair Eaton as Poppa was reassuring and just lovely while Mykal Rand played Electra as one smooth laid back smart arsed honey bun. I loved him. His performance was effortless and masterful.

WEB.600.Starlight Express - Rolling Stock - credit Eric Richmond

In true Joseph style the finale recapped all the shows top tunes whipping the audience into a frenzy. In Southampton they were dancing in the aisles.

Without a traditional Panto in Brighton this Christmas this makes a great alternative show to take all the family to offering West End production values at regional prices. Don’t miss it Brighton!

To book tickets view:

Starlight Express plays at the Brighton Centre till January 12.

Monday – Saturday (except 12th) at 7.30pm
Matinees at 2pm on Thursday 3, Friday 4, Saturday 5, Wednesday 9