The Original Production of Starlight Express told a fairytale story about the group of toy trains. Over the years the storyline has been simplified, altered and the focus changed to suit different productions, but the original story is told here.
The story starts with a small child (Control) playing with his toy trains. His mother tells him to go to bed, and he falls asleep still thinking about the trains. The model trains, that had been running around the set as the audience entered, seem to turn into human-size trains as the toys come to life during the Overture. The music builds and swells, until something magical is surely about to happen - when the heavy Rock of Rolling Stock pierces the atmosphere. Greaseball and his Gang sing an anthem about the power of being an Engine. Then the little steam shunter, Rusty, comes by on his errands. Greaseball and his gang bully him, teasing him about his dreams of racing. Rusty is angry at them, and as he fetches the Coaches, he sings about his plans to show them all wrong when he wins the race in Call Me Rusty (If You Dare). The coaches are all fond of Rusty, but fear for his welfare if he tries to take on the big boys. They try to talk him out of it with Rusty You Can't Be Serious. Pearl, the Observation coach, had tentatively agreed to race with him, but she's not committed yet. She and the other coaches sing A Lotta Locomotion, introducing themselves and what they look for in a partner.
As if to prove the coaches' point, Greaseball returns, bringing two sleeper carriages with him. He sings another big rock'n'roll number, Pumping Iron, surrounded by adoring girls, while Rusty is sent to fetch the Freight train - gradually Control is assembling all the players for the Races. Rusty returns with the Freight, who introduce themselves and sing of how Freight is Great. The Freight train is rather competitive with the Coaches, each feel their speciality is superior.
Control calls the start of the race night proceedings, with the Entry of the National Engines. Rusty puts himself forward, coming from "The sidings". As Control is calling "Any more Entries? Closing Entries!" there is a massive power drain, and then from the darkness, lasers pierce through the smoke. The Components emerge and, speaking in computer code, announce the arrival of Electra. Electra himself appears from above, on the moving bridge, and introduces himself in AC/DC, bedazzling and hypnotising all the residents of the train line. With all the competitors present, Control calls for each engine in turn to come forward and choose their race partner. Greaseball, as the reigning champion, calls Dinah, and one by one we are introduced by name to all the racers. Rusty is left til last, and the beautiful Pearl has been unable to decide on a partner either. Rusty asks her to race with him, but she explains she's waiting for her dream train in He Whistled At Me. Although her dream train is a Steamer, Rusty's whistle isn't *quite* right, so she keeps looking. Purse turns up, and invites Pearl to race with his master, Electra. Pearl is still unsure, but agrees, leaving Rusty alone and heart-broken.
Race: Heat One
Control calls the First Race, reigning champion Greaseball with Dinah, Espresso with Buffy, and Hashamoto with CB. The race is a dirty fight, and Greaseball and Dinah win. Dinah complains about how Greaseball cheated, and he dumps her. CB arrives to congratulate the pair and reveals that he and Greaseball were working together to throw the race, but seeing tragic Dinah, he stays behind to comfort her, singing There's Me.
Over in the Freight yard, Poppa sings The Blues. Rusty finds him and explains that, with Pearl having chosen Electra over him, Rusty can no longer race as he doesn't have a partner. Poppa has a solution, and introduces Belle the Sleeping Car.
Heats 2 and 3
Rusty and Belle enter Race Two, but against Electra and Pearl, and Weltschaft and Joule, they lose. Now even more despondent, Rusty returns to Poppa, who decides to race himself. Just as Rusty points out that there isn't a space in the race, Control announces The British Engine has withdrawn, and calls for any last-minute entries. Poppa takes this as a sign from the Starlight Express, and enters the race with Dustin the Big Hopper.
The Third Race features Bobo and Ashley, Turnov and Wrench, and now Poppa and Dustin. The race is close, but with the weight of the big hopper behind him, Poppa finds a last moment turn of speed and wins the race. However the old steamer has over-exerted himself, and collapses past the finish line. The Freight crowd round to see if he's ok, and Poppa nominates Rusty to take his place in the final. But then the other engines, Greaseball and the gang, Electra, Pearl and the Components, all come by and taunt him for even considering it. In a moment of defiance, Rusty agrees to be Poppa's replacement and race in the final. But, left on his own, Rusty wonders if he has the ability to go ahead, and asks for guidance from the Starlight Express.
Act 2 opens with a massive argument in The Rap, whether to accept Rusty as Poppa's replacement, despite his already having been disqualified in losing his heat. Bobo argues that, since he came second to Poppa, he should have the opportunity to race. Pearl persuades Electra that if Rusty races, Electra can prove he's the best. CB volunteers to race with Rusty, which persuades Greaseball to OK it. Dinah tries to speak up, but nobody wants to listen to her, and the engines arrange that she will race with Electra despite her saying she doesn't want to. Greaseball formally invites Pearl to take a ride in Pearl Twirl, and Pearl doesn't get why Dinah is so upset, after all "It's only fun!" But to heart-broken Dinah, it's the worst thing ever, as she explains to Ashley, Buffy and Belle that she's been UNCOUPLED. The older, wiser coaches persuade her to pick herself up and fight back in Girls' Rolling Stock.
CB the Red Caboose
CB is alone, talking on his radio to Electra, when Greaseball and the Gang find him and threaten him to "Remember whose side you're on". CB assures him he's on his. Shortly after, Electra and Components catch up with CB, who explains to Electra he's going to wipe out Rusty, and his history of causing train wrecks in Wide Smile, High Style. Control then calls the Championship Race - running on the uphill course. Greaseball races with Pearl, Electra with Dinah, and Rusty with CB. With the underhandedness we've come to expect from CB, he betrays Rusty, slowing him at a crucial moment, and the race ends in a dead heat between Greaseball and Electra. Rusty complains I Was Robbed, but Greaseball ignores him. Pearl, however, finally realises that the race was rigged against Rusty, and Greaseball threatens her if she complains to the Marshalls. CB mocks Rusty, telling him that the re-run is just between Greaseball and Electra, and Rusty, only a shunter, is "no engine", laughing hysterically as he leaves. Rusty is then visited by the Rockies, who bring their own special form of support in Right Place, Right Time. They encourage him to just leave it, that you can't win against loaded odds.
The Starlight Express
Alone, Rusty hits rock bottom, and calls to The Starlight Express. He feels a magical presence, and a voice answers him. The Starlight Express tells him to believe in himself and he can achieve anything in a medley of melodies of Rusty's earlier questioning, and now finding answers in the Starlight Sequence. The first person Rusty sees after is Dustin, who was asleep but dreamed of the Starlight as well. Dustin agrees to go with Rusty. Meanwhile, Dinah has lost all patience with Electra failing to Whistle at her, and she disconnects him. With moments before the re-run of the final race, Electra calls on CB to be his race partner.
Race: Downhill Final
The re-run of the championship final race is run on the downhill course. Greaseball and Pearl, Electra and CB are lining up for the start of the race, when Rusty and Dustin turn up and join them at the last second. The race is fast and dirty, as Greaseball and Electra fight. Electra throws lightning bolts at Greaseball, but misses and hits Pearl by accident. Injured, Greaseball just disconnects her at speed, and she hurtles towards the edge. But Rusty diverts and catches her just in time, putting her safety above his position in the race. Now with only CB between Greaseball and Electra, and both needing him as a partner to cross the finish line, the fighting gets more reckless. In the final stretch, however, Rusty catches up and pulls into the lead, and as Greaseball and CB crash in the tunnel, Rusty wins the race! Rather than wait for congratulations, he immediately leaves to find Pearl.
Humiliated, Electra has lost the race. He swears to leave and never return, in No Comeback. In the wake of his furious exit, the wrecked Greaseball and CB stumble out from the tunnel, and sing One Rock'n'Roll Too Many, describing how they pushed too hard and now they're paying for it. Poppa arrives, demanding to know where Rusty's gone. Nobody knows, except Dustin heard him say he was looking for Pearl. Greaseball and CB are dragged to their wheels to take them to where Pearl was last seen.
Pearl is alone, and finally realises that the engine of her dreams, the Steamer who whistled at her, was there all the time, and that Rusty is the one - Only He (has the power to move me). Rusty finds her, and Pearl tells him she's found her dream train. He tells her he found the Starlight Express, and now has the confidence to tell her that she's the only girl for him, and she realises he won the race. They sing a duet reprise of Pearl's big number, Only You. Poppa and all the others catch up with the lovers, and at that moment Control decides to cancel the winner's Lap of Honour. Buffy and Ashley reflect on how everything's worked out and has a happy ending, and Dinah catches up with the wrecked Greaseball who apologises to her. Poppa and Belle remind us all, no matter how dark it may be, there's always a Light at the End of the Tunnel.