****THE FASTEST SHOW ON EARTH (Background)****
Starlight Express was created by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1975 as a children's story. Apparently Sir Andrew intended it to become an animated show but as this didn't happen, he went on to re-write it in 1983, as a story for his two children. The show opened in 1984 at London's Apollo Victoria theatre. Nine years later the music was devoted to another of his children, Alastair.
In the words of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber:
"Starlight was always meant to be fun, hopefully an entertaining piece of live theatre for a new audience...
We are all proud that Starlight not only became the second longest running musical in London theatre history in April 1992, but also has spawned a new generation of theatre-goers who perhaps never considered going to the theatre before and who may have gone on to other (perhaps more conventional!) things."
The shows lyrics are by Richard Stilgoe and I understand that additional lyrics for the tour have been written by David Yazbeck. Arlene Phillips choreographed for the West End show and is also a choreographer and director for this United Kingdome tour. The tour is presented by Bill Kenwright.
I was impressed to hear that Starlight Express has been seen by almost 20 million people and gross box office world-wide is estimated at over £270 million. It has been shown in Germany (and still is in a specially adapted stage in Bochum), the USA, Canada, Australia, Mexico and Japan and it was also shown on ice in 1997. I think it's shame that it isn't still running in London.
It's a simple story of a boy (unseen) playing with his train set. His mother tells him it's time to stop playing but he resists. The boy falls asleep and dreams of the all-important race as his trains come to life and he is the controller. His voice is heard throughout the show.
The trains are engines and carriages both male and female. The actors skate and dance through the show, imitating the movement of trains.
Starlight Express is about the preparations of the trains for the big race; a contest between steam, diesel and electric to see which really is the best. It's a tail of the underdog and of course, there's a love story in there too.
The story is simple but, in my opinion, works very well and is all that is needed as this show has so much action as well as imaginative, vibrant costumes, brilliant skating and lots of catchy tunes and much innuendo contained in the song lyrics.
**** I'VE SEEN THE STARLIGHT BUT ONCE IS NEVER ENOUGH****
I never got to see Starlight Express when it was being shown in London's Apollo Victoria theatre in London, back in March 1984. I wanted to go although admittedly I wasn't as interested in musicals at the time as I am now, and also, with two young children under the age of two and a half, I had to watch the pennies. But I regret not seeing it while it was still showing in London's West End (especially as I was living in London) in its purpose built set.
As my youngest child entered her teens she became obsessed with musicals and started performing in amateur productions. I felt I had to start taking her to see some musicals. I was pleased to see in 2004 that Starlight Express was on tour and would be at Southend-on-Sea in Essex, not too far away from us. We did go to see it and were most impressed, so much so that I wanted to see this show again. This year, after a wait of several years, I was very pleased to discover that it was again on tour in the UK.
The tour covered much of the United Kingdom and we considered seeing the show at Wimbledon, London, in May of 2012, but found that the dates weren't suitable so we settled instead on again going to the Cliffs Pavilion at Southend-on-Sea.
****MY OPINION ON THE SONGS AND MUSIC****
The songs in this show when heard but not seen in the context of the show aren't amongst my favourites from musicals but when watching the show then they seem so much better and really suit the action and story perfectly. The music is mainly upbeat, as is the show and the lyrics are very humorous. Most of the songs get the audience clapping and tapping their feet to the rhythm.
My favourites are I am the Starlight, Starlight Express and Make Up My Heart. All songs were sung well and received well by the audience. There was laughter as U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D. (a parody of D.I.V.O.R.C.E. by Tammy Wynette) was sung by Dinah the dining car and when three worst for wear trains sang, One Rock and Roll too many.
****WELL TRAINED STAR(light) CAST****
I thought this an excellent cast. On the night that we saw the show Poppa was played by Gavin Ashbarry, instead of Lothair Eaton. When I last saw Starlight, I remember the actor playing Poppa had a very memorable gospel/blues type voice, more so than Gavin Ashbarry, BUT this was made up for by Ashbarry's excellent interaction with the audience and his obvious enjoyment of playing this part.
I thought that Amanda Coutts as Pearl had a beautiful voice.
I was very impressed with Kristofer Harding (Rusty) and Jamie Capewell (Greaseball) for their singing talents and their acting.
Introducing just a few of the cast:
Kristofer Harding Rusty
Mykal Rand Electra
Jamie Capewell Greaseball
Lothair Eaton/Gavin Ashbarry Poppa
Amanda Coutts Pearl
Ruthie Stephens Dinah
Camilla Hardy Buffy
Kelsie Cobban Duvay
On entering the auditorium one is handed cardboard 3D glasses; these are for the race scenes. My son and his fiancée looked a little puzzled but as I'd seen the show before I knew what to expect. Yet, even though I'd been here before I still really enjoyed the announcement/safety warnings of: Safety alert. Please put on your safety glasses. Glasses were put on and the tunnel scenes went ahead. A screen lowers onto the stage and the 3D effect can be seen. Trains (skaters) speed through the tunnels whilst objects fly through the air, seeming to head straight at the audience. When a bat flew in the tunnel everyone jumped, including me.
I understand that when the show was at the Apollo Victoria, the actors really did race on their skates, but on tour, without a custom built train track effect this wouldn't be possible with any feeling of realism. I felt the 3D effect worked very well and added something just a little bit different.
****LITTLE STARS (Children)****
I was surprised at the amount of children in the theatre for the show as it wasn't a matinée performance and there had been matinées shown. I think some parents may think this show is aimed at children but although it may initially have been, the humour is adult in content. No bad language but plenty of innuendo. True, the adult jokes would be over the heads of young children and I don't think anything is offensive, but I thought that some very young children in the audience were a little bored, confused and too tired to really enjoy the show. I think the show is suitable for adults and older children (of course this depends on the child but I would think from around seven or eight years old upwards) and teens.
****EXPRESS INTERVAL (A race to the loo!)****
The interval wasn't long enough or I suppose more to the point there are never enough ladies toilets in any theatre that I've been to when the theatre is full or almost full. We rushed to get to the toilets but were still in for a very long wait.
As is always the case, the queue for the gents toilets is much shorter and quicker moving than for the ladies, and so fortunately my son and husband were able to undertake our bar requirements. We took a drink into the theatre contained in plastic beakers. The show only lasted a little over two hours and so I do think the interval could have been longer.
I booked on-line using the seating plan. As I've been to this theatre before, and seen this show here, I had a good idea of where it would be best to sit. As the stage is high and there is no rake in the stalls I don't think sitting too close to the stage is a good idea as a lot of the action will be missed and one would more than likely develop a very stiff neck.
I think for this show in particular where there is lot of action and the actors throughout the show are on roller skates then probably the front rows of the balcony or the boxes would be best to get the most from the action but as I couldn't acquire four seats together in these preferred areas I thought that the next best choice would be in the centre aisle and a little way back (I obtained row F, seats 13 to 16). Although I do find it good when having seats in the stalls fairly close to the stage to be bale to see the actor's expressions; this draws you into the show.
****TOUR DATES/VENUES (Get Your Skates On)****
The Starlight Express tour began in May at The New Wimbledon Theatre, London. The tour is currently showing in Aberdeen. Further dates are to be announced but here are tour dates from now until 9th February 2013.
(Information of dates and venues taken from http://www.reallyuseful.com)
Tuesday 2 - Saturday 13 October
His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen
Box Office: 01224 641122
Tuesday 16 - Saturday 27 October
Hull New Theatre
Box Office: 01482 300 300
Tuesday 29 January - Saturday 9 February 2013
Millennium Forum, Londonderry
Box Office: 028 7126 4455
**FURTHER DATES TO BE ANNOUNCED (See: http://www.reallyuseful.com)
For the tour ticket prices will vary according to which theatre you choose to see the show at. It will work out considerably cheaper in most, if not all, theatres than seeing a West End production. I paid £43 for each of my tickets (four in all) and these were top price. If I had watched a West End show then the top price would usually be over £60, often quite a bit more.
I think the price I paid was probably a little high for this theatre, but then again, for the enjoyment we all got from watching Starlight Express, I suppose it was money well spent.
I think this is a great uplifting show. I wanted to watch something that was upbeat and amusing. It isn't my favourite musical, that, I'm sure. Will always be, 'Les Miserables' which, in my opinion is an incredibly hard musical to equal, let alone beat. But, this show has a well-deserved place as a musical supplying fun from start to finish. It's very well worth watching, in my opinion.
The encore was fantastic. After everyone took their bows and encores were shouted from all corners of the audience, the cast, , sang a medley of songs from the show and Poppa (Gavin Ashbarry) standing at front centre stage, invited the audience to get up and join in. Most did! We had a great fifteen minutes or so swaying and clapping to the songs. The cast really appeared to be appreciative of their audience and seemed to enjoy performing this brilliant encore.
I was surprised the first time that I saw Starlight Express by how much I enjoyed it, as did my husband. But both my husband and myself thought it was even better the second time around. It had been updated a little with some minor changes to characters and songs. But the encore was definitely better on this tour.