Newest Review: ... the story by Poppa, another old steam train who once won the race, and the Starlight Express, who is best described as a train in the... more
Pack up the Moon and Dismantle the Sun
Member Name: zoe_page_1
Date: 20/11/04, updated on 23/11/04 (627 review reads)
Advantages: Fab!, Unique stage version of the show, Touring so you don't need to be in London
Disadvantages: not cheap, some stuff limited to those sitting in the stalls - were 2/3rd of ticket holders are not!
***** Another opening, another show
Some shows you see and notice each number as they go by. Starlight on the other hand is much more fluid, and it wasn't until AC/DC that I realised the preceding bit had been 4 distinct numbers and not just one long opening one. The show follows the current trend for longer first halves, with 12 numbers then to a mere 8 after the interval. The story is not laid out in the program, but is easy to follow given the presence of an off screen announcer who keeps you up to speed, not to mention the lyrics which are lovely and meaningful for once. The stage in Manchester extends out into the audience which is a pain if you're not sitting in the stalls, but also not that impressive that I wished I'd added another £50 to the price of an already expensive ticket (We sat at the front of the gallery and paid £25 - in comparison we saw Kiss Me Kate at the other big local theatre and paid £20 for front row circle seats). On some of the bits where the extended stage ramp is used, large screens descend from the top of the stage to show you the action as it happens. On others these don't appear, but there are still people on stage singing and dancing so you're not left with absolutely no one to look at.
The sole set for Starlight is very plain - no more than a curved ramp at the back of the stage that separates and re joins as if by magic to allow performers on and off at times when coming in from the wings would simply be beneath them. There are no set changes apart from this, and no backdrops swooshing up and down. The starlight appears only very briefly (for Rusty's epiphany - see below) but the constant stage contact of the expresses means the show's title is not entirely redundant.
***** So I wanna know...what's the name of the train?
All the characters in the show and trains or carriages of some sort. The Electric train Electra, the show's answer to Llandewi Breffi's own Daffyd Jones, is the only gay on the tracks. Or if not gay then at least the campest train in town. Then there's the British train, invariably delayed due to the wrong type of weather, there being no leaves on these tracks on which to blame it. The Russian train, very Eastern Bloc, all worn out parts and out dated design only makes it part of the way through before collapsing into a pile. The diesel train Greaseball, a modern day Danny Zuko, is constantly teasing his coiffed black hair. And of course Dusty who is just as his name would suggest, and naively innocent too. There are the backing characters, from the self-appreciating freight trains (who like to sing 'Freight...is great') to the aptly named passenger cars - Dinah the dining care, Ashley the smoking car, Buffy the buffet car. The focus starts on the differences between an international group of trains with a race to determine the fastest of the bunch, but this soon evolves into a contest between different fuel types from steam to diesel to electric.
***** Faster than fairies, faster than witches, broomsticks and houses, hedges and ditches
Starlight Express is about a race between the different trains. I first saw Starlight Express in Bochum 14 years ago. I was 8 at the time, and it was performed in German so I can only vaguely recall that version, but there are some things that they have obviously changed for the UK tour, and this race is one of them. In the German stage version the race took place live on tracks that went up above the stage and even extended partly into the audience. In the new touring production the race is shown on 3D screens (the reason for them handing you your 'safety goggles' when you arrive at your seat) and has been totally pre-recorded (just like the crucifixion in the German version of Jesus Christ Superstar). Once you've got over the fact that you're in a theatre....but watching a film, you're just struck by the fact that it's so naff it's actually good. Think Power Rangers. Think other bad children's TV shows. It's a cop out in a way, but totally understandable given that this is a touring version and won't be playing at the Opera House for evermore.
***** He was a sk8ter boi, she said see you later boy, he wasn't good enough for her
Someone once said that there are only a handful of stories in the world, and these just get re-hashed and re-jigged into appearing like new tales in different contexts. One such story has to be the boy meets girl, boy looses girl one which is the base for Starlight Express. Rusty runs on steam, the lowest in the train hierarchy that also includes diesel and electric power. He's in love with Pearl, one of the passenger carriages, so asks her to partner him in the race, but when she's also approached by the super new and shiny sequined Electra, she doesn't know who to choose. Cue the song 'Make up my heart'.
***** Skate then wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the Skating, said he
The whole show is done on roller skates. The 4 wheel kind. It's different for a musical as obviously they can't dance as well in them (though they do try) but is very much like watching ice dancing or similar. The performers are all technically playing trains, but these are wondrous machines with human abilities - they can sing and dance, they can laugh and cry, they can backstab and they can have epiphanies in which the eponymous hero appears to them and makes them see sense - Starlight Express is their God, a true Lord of the Skating. But of course. For a cast of whom only one is a professional skater by trade, they do enormously well. Last time I checked roller-skating was not on the syllabus at Laine Theatre Arts but though the choreography is in some ways simple, the pull off the skating as well as they do the singing and token bits of dancing.
***** I wanna hold your, I wanna hold your, I wanna hold your....bum?
Since trains are couple together, dancers pretending to be trains need to be too, and in the touring version this is done by handles at the top of each performers bum for those travelling directly to hang on to. Lovely. The costumes are interesting in other ways, too. The girls are in typical ice dancer / slutty musical corps - little dresses with tiny skirts, cleavage inducing corsets, suspenders and fishnets over un-comfy looking thongs (one turns and thrusts her bum at you in one number meaning you can see her underwear from the Gallery level, even without opera glasses in hand). The men are more covered up but hardly get off lightly - thick body suits with a mix of flashing lights, body panels and head dresses of bricks, topped off with bizarre face paint rather than make up. They don't look like any of the trains I've ever seen at Piccadilly, but somehow it works on stage.
***** Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun - it's just the stars that are going on tour
Starlight Express played in London for 18 years before closing in 2002. During that time there were also American and Australasian tours, and long running productions in New York, Las Vegas, Germany, Mexico and Japan. Now it's back with a 8 month UK tour which started in Manchester on 1st Nov. From here it's off to Sunderland, Bristol, Oxford, Edinburgh and Southampton ending up in Liverpool in June next year. See www.reallyuseful.com/Shows/Starlight/show_home.asp for more details.
I thought the production was fab - it was a really showy-show, lots of glam and glitter, with a highly trained cast, interesting characters and unexpected bursts of technology to liven it up. I sat in the uncomfortable gallery seats but hardly noticed as I was transfixed the whole time. Absolutely well worth seeing if you're ever near a production of it, and keep an eye out for the UNCOUPLED song because it's hilarious.
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