The Broadway production of Starlight Express opened on 15 March 1987 at the Gershwin Theatre, where it ran for 761 performances, closing in January 1989. This version featured extensive revisions to the plot and the addition and omission of several musical numbers. [1]

Creative Team

Production Background

1987_Tony_Performance_Starlight_Express.mp4

1987 Tony Performance Starlight Express.mp4

Fearing a backlash against his success as a 'Brit on Broadway', Lloyd Webber became convinced that Starlight ‘should never go anywhere near’ Broadway.[3]

The plan instead was to take the same approach as he had done with Jesus Christ Superstar: release a concept album then present a touring production in arenas across America.

The concept album album was recorded, but RUG producer Brian Brolly ultimately accepted a lucrative offer from Broadway producer Jimmy Nederlander to ‘shoehorn Starlight into one of his Broadway houses’[3]. The Broadway production amassed an advance box office of over $5 million.

Starlight Express began previews at the Gerswin Theatre on 24th February. The opening night was scheduled for February, but was delayed twice to give the creative team more time to perfect the moving parts of the set. The production eventually opened on 15th March, after 22 previews[4].

New Material for Broadway

By 1987, Starlight Express had been running in London for almost 3 years. As they approached the second production, the creative team took the opportunity to develop the material – both revising the story and songs and adapting the show for an American audience. The changes they made affected every aspect of the show, from plot, music and characters to set and costume design and choreography. In his playbill note for the production, lyricist Richard Stilgoe joked that there were ‘eight crates of rewrites’ somewhere in Manhattan.[5]

Characters

Plot/Structure

  • Rather than racing simply for the accolade "Champion Engine of the World", the trains race for a prize, the "Silver Dollar".
  • The "Entry of the National Engines" was moved to the beginning of the show, in the place of the orchestral Overture.
  • "Pumping Iron" was moved from after "Freight" to after "AC/DC", reframing the song as Greaseball making a direct challenge to the appearance of Electra.
  • The race structure changed from 3 heats with 1 winner each in the final, to 2 heats with 2 winners each in the final. Rusty didn't race in the heats at all, making Belle, originally his race partner, redundant (This decision would lead to Belle being cut from the show in later productions).
  • For the "Downhill Final", Rusty appears transformed, like Cinderella at the ball. Rusty even introduces himself as "The Starlight Express". None of the other characters recognise him, not even Control. However, this gave the actor playing Rusty at most 3 minutes to change costume between one of the biggest songs and the most athletic race number. Also the costume was not particularly distinctive in the fast-paced scenes, and while it had fine details the overall effect was not sufficient to justify the effort needed. The disguised Rusty idea was scrapped early on the Broadway run and reverted back to Rusty entering the Final as himself.
  • During the "Downhill Final", Caboose steals the Silver Dollar. At the end of the race, Rusty disappears looking for Pearl, however the ensemble accuse Rusty of having stolen it. After "Only You" the ensemble catch up with him and he consents to being searched if the opposition have to do likewise. This led to a lengthy slapstick chase ("The Chase"), which concludes with Caboose crashing into Greaseball and Electra. This extra scene was cut during the show's run, replaced with the simpler story of Caboose, Electra and Greaseball crashing during the race.

Musical Numbers

  • "Engine of Love" was used when Rusty brought the Coaches in near the beginning of the show.
  • Pearl was removed from "A Lotta Locomotion", so it was sung only by Dinah, Buffy and Ashley.
  • "He Whistled at Me" was replaced with a ballad, "Make Up My Heart."
  • "There's Me" became a duet between Caboose and Dinah.
  • "The Rap" was replaced by the "Hymn to Victory/Silver Dollar" as the original plot-driven rap, mainly concerning Rusty's predicament, was irrelevant. Instead the new plot point of the "Silver Dollar" was strengthened.
  • "No Comeback" was cut. Instead, Electra joined Greaseball and Caboose in "One Rock 'n' Roll Too Many", rearranged with choreography that was more slapstick and less sexual innuendo-laden.
  • "Only He" (Pearl's solo) was replaced with an expanded "Only You" (duet) between Pearl and Rusty, using the same melody.

Set Design

The Broadway budget was also much larger than the budget in London. As the New York Times noted, Starlight Express was 'beefed up' for America – the ‘limbo-like’ setting of the London production was replaced by a ‘miniature toy-land America festooned with landmarks, from the Golden Gate Bridge to the New York skyline’ that ‘lit up like a pinball machine’.[6]

To build the set, 120,000 pounds of steel, 7,000 sheets of plywood, 22 miles of fibre optics, 1,500 feet of fluorescent tubing were required.

Costume Design

The increased budget also allowed the production to fully realise John Napier's costume designs. Many characters were completely re-designed however, with an overall bigger, squarer feel to the costumes - closer to the mechanical, and further from the human elements of the characters.

Running Order

Act 1 Featured Characters
 
Control & Mother / Entry of the National Engines Bobo, Espresso, Weltschaft, Turnov, Hashamoto, Prince of Wales, Greaseaball, Gang
Rolling Stock Greaseball, National Engines, Gang
Engine of Love Rusty, Pearl, Dinah, Ashley, Buffy
This is Gonna be the Day Rusty, Pearl, Coaches
Rusty Can't Be Serious Dinah, Ashley, Buffy
A Lotta Locomotion Dinah, Ashley, Buffy
Freight Rockies, Flat Top, Dustin, Caboose, Rusty, Coaches
AC/DC Electra, Krupp, Purse, Wrench, Joule, Volta, ensemble
Pumping Iron Greaseball, ensemble
Freight (Reprise) Ensemble
Hitching and Switching Dinah, Greaseball, Ensemble
Pearl, You've Been Honoured Purse, Pearl, Rusty
Make Up My Heart Pearl
Race: Heat One Greaseball & Dinah
Weltschaft & Joule
Turnov & Caboose
Electra & Pearl
That was Unfair Dinah, Greaseball, Caboose
There's Me Caboose, Dinah
Poppa's Blues Poppa, Rockies, Flat Top, Dustin
Rusty Why You Looking Sad Poppa, Rusty
Belle Belle
Starlight Express Intro / Boy, Boy, Boy Poppa, Rusty, Rockies, Flat Top, Dustin
Race: Heat Two Bobo & Buffy
Hashamoto & Volta
Espresso & Ashley
Poppa & Dustin
Laughing Stock Ensemble
Starlight Express Rusty
Act 2 Featured Characters
 
Silver Dollar Ensemble
U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D. Dinah, Ashley, Buffy
Rolling Stock (Reprise) Dinah, Ashley, Buffy
Dinah, You're Honoured Purse, Dinah, Ashley, Buffy
Wide Smile, High Style, That's Me Caboose, Greaseball, Gang, Electra, Components
First Final Greaseball & Pearl
Electra & Dinah
Hashamoto & Volta
Rusty & Caboose
I Was Robbed Rusty, Greaseball, Electra, Pearl, Caboose
Right Place, Right Time Rockies
I Am The Starlight Rusty, Poppa
Rusty and Dustin Rusty, Dustin
Dinahs Disco Dinah, Electra, Components, Caboose
Final Selection Greaseball & Pearl
Electra & Caboose
Rusty & Dustin
Only You Pearl, Rusty
Chase Rusty, Greaseball, Electra, Caboose, Ensemble
One Rock & Roll Too Many Greaseball, Electra, Caboose
You could be converted! Poppa, Ensemble
Light at the End of the Tunnel Company
Bows / Playout Company

Cast Recording

A cast recording was not made of the Broadway transfer. However, the production was preceded by a concept album that features versions of many of the songs recorded by American artists.

Reviews and Media Coverage

Trivia

The Gershwin Theatre has been home to the long-running hit musical "Wicked", as has the Apollo Victoria theatre in London, home of the original London production of Starlight Express.

Cast

1987 Cast / 1988 replacements
Rusty Greg Mowry Pearl Reva Rice
Greaseball Robert Torti
/ John Schiappa
Dinah Jane Krakowski
Poppa Steve Fowler Ashley Andrea McArdle
/ Stacia Goad
Electra Ken Ard Buffy Jamie Beth Chandler
/ Lola Knox
Rocky 1 Frank Mastrocola
/ Bryan Batt
Flat-top Todd Lester / Mark Villa / Michael O'Steen
Rocky 2 Sean Grant Dustin Michael Scott Gregory
/ Keith Allen
Rocky 3 Ronald Garza Caboose Barry K. Bernal
/ Todd Lester
Rocky 4 Angel Vargas Belle Janet Williams Adderley
Krupp Joey McKneely / Mark Frawley / Roger Kachel Bobo AC Ciulla
/ Brian Carmack
Wrench Christina Youngman
/ Stacey Heinz
Espresso Philip Clayton
Purse Gordon Owens Weltschaft Michael Berglund
Joule Nicole Picard
/ Kimberly Blake
Turnov William Christopher Frey
/ Ron DeVito
Volta Mary Ann Lamb
/ Jani-K Walsh
/ Danielle Burgio
Hashamoto Ken Rose
Prince of Wales Sean McDermott
Swing Lola Knox Swing Christine Langner
Swing Amelia Prentice Swing D Michael Heath
Poppa Cover Danny Strayhorn Swing Michael-Demby Cain
Swing Mark Frawley Swing Anthony Galde
Swing Ron Morgan Swing Dwight Toppin
Swing Broderick Wilson

Replacement Swings: Dorie Herndon, Harold Yi, Roger Kachel, Marvin Engran, Terri Homberg, Dawn Marie Church, Marty Simpson, Janice Lorraine Holt, Jennifer Prescott

Booth Singers: Melanie Vaughan, Paul Binotto, Lon Hoyt, Mary Windholtz

Replacement Booth Singers: Willy Falk, Hal Miller, Francis Ruivivar

Control: Braden Danner

Mother: Melanie Vaughan

Video

Press_Reel_-_Broadway_1987

Press Reel - Broadway 1987

Press Reel - filmed early in dress rehearsals, 1987

Gallery

Photo gallery.png
  1. www.playbillvault.com Starlight Express
  2. Fraley, Michal: Skating the Starlight Express (2011), ISBN: 978-1-4583-7432-5
  3. 3.0 3.1 Unmasked, Andrew Lloyd Webber
  4. Fraley, Michal: Skating the Starlight Express (2011), ISBN: 978-1-4583-7432-5
  5. Richard Stilgoe's playbill note, Broadway 1987
  6. NY Times Review, March 1987
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