Starlight Express the Musical Wiki

The first US Tour, a scaled down production directly descended from Broadway, ran in the U.S. and Canada from 7th November 1989 – 12 April 1991.

Production Credits

James M Nederlander, Columbia Artists Management Inc., Concert Productions International, Pace Theatrical Group present:

  • Starlight Express - Tracking Across America on Tour
  • Executive Producer Gartchell & Neufeld, Ltd
  • Production Supervisor Perry Cline
  • Technical Supervisor Jeremiah J. Harris Associates
  • Casting by Johnson-Liff and Zerman
  • Musical Director Paul Bogaev
  • Conductor Jan Rosenberg
  • Automated Lighting designed by Aland Henderson
  • Film designed and produced by Kevin Biles Design
  • Sound Design by Martin Levan Sound Design
  • Tour lighting designed by Rick Belzer and Ted Mather
  • Costumes designed by John Napier
  • Associate scenic designer Raymond Huessy
  • Directed and Choreographed by Arlene Phillips
  • Assistant to Arlene Phillips Ilse Challis
  • Dance Captain James Walski
  • Skate Coach Michal Fraley / Tami Ganz[1]
  • Scenic Construction and Automation by East Coast Theatre Supply Inc.
  • Costumes executed by Parsons Meares Ltd

Production Specifics


The tour was a direct development from the Broadway production, inheriting some of the cast, as well as costumes and musical choices. The material was developed from the Broadway production, simplifying some story elements. The characters of Belle, Rocky 4, and Prince of Wales were cut.

Rather than scaling the show up to fill stadiums as the 1987 Japan/Australia tour had, the set was scaled down to fit in regular regional theatres. The races were mostly on film- with the racers zooming out to circle the stage from behind the screen occasionally. The set was restricted by the necessities of tour, but a start gate/bridge was incorporated into the set, as well as a small loop of race track – nicknamed 'the tongue'[2] – that extended out into the audience.

Unlike most productions, Control was performed live rather than played as a recording[3].

Tour Dates

Theatre City Dates
November 1989 - April 1991
Taft Theatre Cincinnati OH 7-12 Nov 1989
State Theqatre Playhouse Square Cleveland OH 14-19 Nov 1989
Benedum Center Pittsburgh PA 21 Nov - 3 Dec 1989
Fox Theatre St Louis MO 5-10 Dec 1989
Ellie Caulkins Opera House Denver CO 12-17 Dec 1989
Sacramento Community Center Theatre[4] Sacramento, CA 19-24 December 1989
San Diego Civic Theatre San Diego CA 26-31 Dec 1989
Golden Gate Theatre[5] San Francisco CA 2-28 Jan 1990
Paramount Theatre Seattle WA 30 Jan - 11 Feb 1990
Queen Elizabeth Theatre Vancouver BC 13-18 Feb 1990
Pantages Theatre[6] Los Angeles CA 21 Feb- 1 April 1990
Orange County Performing Arts Center Costa Mesa CA 3rd - 15th April
Music Hall Houston TX 17-29 April 1990
Saenger Theatre New Orleans LA 1-6 May 1990
Jackie Gleason Theater Miami Beach FL 8-20 May 1990
David A Straz Jr Center Tampa FL 22-27 May 1990
Bob Carr Theater[7] [8] Orlando FL 29 May- 3 June 1990
Kentucky Center Louisville KY 5-10 June 1990
Kennedy Center Opera House[9] Washington DC 12 June - 15 July 1990
Sony Centre Toronto ON 17-29 July 1990
Fox Theatre Atlanta, Georgia 7-12 August 1990
Music Hall at Fair Park Dallas TX 14 Aug -2 Sept 1990
Segerstrom Center for the Arts Costa Mesa CA 4-9 Sept 1990
Des Moines Civic Center Des Moines IA 11-16 Sept 1990
ASU Gammage Tempe AZ 18-23 Sept 1990
Chapman Music Hall Tulsa OK 25-30 Sept 1990
Civic Center Music Hall Oklahoma City OK 2-7 Oct 1990
Lila Cockrell Theater San Antonio TX 9-14 Oct 1990
Chicago Theatre Chicago IL 16-28 Oct 1990
Taft Theatre Cincinnati OH 30 Oct-4 Nov 1990
Masonic Temple Theatre Detroit MI 6-25 Nov 1990
Shea's Performing Arts Center Buffalo NY 27 Nov-2 Dec 1990
Centre in the Square Kitchener ON 18-23 Dec 1990
National Arts Centre Ottowa ON 25 Dec-2 Jan 1991
? ? Knickerbocker Theatre Broadway NY 2-6 Jan 1991
The Wang Theatre Boston MA 8-13 Jan 1991
The Auditorium Theatre Rochester NY 15-20 Jan 1991
Lyric Opera House Baltimore MD 22Jan -17 Feb 1991
Times-Union Center Jacksonville FL 19-24 Feb 1991
?Von Braun Center Huntsville AL 26-28 Feb 1991
?Eisenhower Hall Theatre West Point NY 1-3 March 1991
Providence Performing Arts Center Providence RI 5-10 March 1991
Ohio Theatre Columbus OH 12-17 March 1991
Peoria Civic Center Peoria IL 19-20 March 1991
Morris Performing Arts Center South Bend IN 22-24 March 1991
DeVos Performance Hall Grand Rapids MI 26-31 March 1991
Wharton Center for the Performing Arts East Lansing MI 2-7 April 1991


1989 Cast / later additions
Rusty Sean McDermott Pearl Reva Rice
Greaseball Ron DeVito Dinah Dawn Marie Church
Poppa Jimmy Lockett Ashley Rachelle Rak
Electra Eric Clausell/Michael-Demby Cain Buffy Nicole Picard
Rocky 1 Ronald Garza Flat-top Dennis Courtney/George Smyros
Rocky 2 Dwight Toppin Dustin Anthony Marciona
Rocky 3 Angel Vargas Caboose Todd Lester/Frank J. Maio
Krupp Nelson Yee Bobo Peter Liciaga
Wrench Renee Chambers/Jeanna Schweppe Espresso Steven Cates
Purse Jamie/Michael-Demby Cain/Anthony Galde Weltschaft Fred Tallaksen/Steven M Schultz
Joule Angela Pupello/Chera Wilson Turnov Steven K Dry/Preston Simpson
Volta Kimberly A Gladman Hashamoto Glenn Shiroma/Jim Harrison
Mother/Chorus Mary Denise Bentley Chorus/Control Lori Flynn/Eileen Tepper
Swing Meera Popkin Swing Aiko Nakasone
Swing Rod McCune Swing Rod Weber
Chorus Paul Binotto Chorus Lon Hoyt (replaced by Scott Westmoreland)
Chorus Raymond Patterson Chorus / Control (u/s) Scott Westmoreland (replaced Lon Hoyt)
Swing Matthew Daugherty Swing Steve Kadel
Swing Bobby Love Swing Ricky Mujica
Swing Steven M Schultz Swing Brett Stone
Swing Matt Terry


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Facts and Figures

  • The production, including the set, lighting, computers, and costumes, weighs approximately 50 tons. It is the biggest set in theatre history.
  • Ten 48 foot tractor trailers are required to move the show from city to city. This is an unprecedented figure.
  • It will require 60 people 12-20 hours to load-in the set in each theatre and the same number of people six to eight hours to take the set out of each theatre.
  • 50,000 pounds (25 1/2 tons) of aluminium.
  • 7000 sheets of plywood.
  • A skating ramp will extend 44 feet from the front of the stage, over the orchestra pit and into the audience.
  • 22 miles of fiber optics will create a star-field of 10,000 points of light (A phrase coined by "Starlight Express prior to the 1988 Presidential campaign) to create the Starlight effect.
  • 800 stationary lights
  • 500 lights built into the aluminium deck.
  • 50 Vari-Lites, a special moving computerised light capable of emitting 1,400 colours.
  • The production will utilise six separate computer systems for the sound, stationary lights, Vari-Lites, lasers, film projection and scenery. Each system has one back-up computer except the scenery which has four different back-ups, including two computers, one electronic and one manual method.
  • The costumes cost between $10,000 and $22,000 each.
  • Some costumes weigh up to 35 pounds.
  • Each actor has at least two pairs of skates, some have four.
  • 75 pairs of skates in total.
  • Each pair of skates is completely overhauled after each performance.
  • The sequins on some costumes are attached with a soldering iron.


STAGE REVIEW : ‘Starlight Express’ Explodes With Pizazz

By KENNETH HERMAN Dec. 29, 1989


Contrary to popular opinion, Andrew Lloyd Webber did not invent theatrical spectacle. He only appears to have been granted its current patent. Flornez Ziegfeld and Busby Berkeley built their careers on long-legged choreographic spectacle, and even the esteemed composers of Baroque opera knew a few attention-demanding stage tricks. In the 18th Century, entire scenes would descend from above the stage, accompanied by trumpets and drums, a feat that surprised and dazzled noble opera audiences of the pre-laser era.

Wednesday at Civic Theatre, Lloyd Webber’s cartoon musical “Starlight Express” both dazzled and delighted its opening-night audience. This touring production of the British composer’s 1984 opus, presented by the San Diego Playgoers, imposed its high-tech identity on the staid hall. The oversized set overflowed the theater’s stage area, replacing a section of front seats with a circular skating ramp, and the production brought along its own high-voltage power source for its mighty battery of lights and lasers.

In “Starlight Express,” Lloyd Webber metamorphosed his quirky “Cats” into a transcontinental train race and harnessed the inspirational horsepower of “The Little Engine That Could” to a crew of helmeted skaters. The story--steam engine meets girl, steam engine loses girl, steam engine wins train race to win back girl--is little more than an excuse for sleekly executed choreography on skates. (Arlene Phillips deserves high honors for her tight direction and brilliant choreography.) With its smoke, dancing spotlights, video sequences and smashing, industrial sculpture costumes, the musical is as visually stimulating as it is intellectually vapid.

Always the clever chameleon, Lloyd Webber imitated or burlesqued a host of popular musical idioms, from the blues to 1940s swing harmonies to raucous 1950s rock ‘n’ roll. Nor was the composer above a cute country-Western takeoff or a hand-clapping gospel rip-off.

Accompanied by a snappy, high-decibel 12-piece band in the pit--no strings but lots of brass and multiple electronic keyboards--the singers sang and skated in almost constant motion. Microphones attached to the skaters’ helmets picked up their voices and amplified them to appropriate levels for a generation which has lost much of its hearing to heavy-metal rock concerts.

Some voices stood out. As Rusty, the down-and-out steam engine (he’s a bit rusty--get it?) who acquires an infusion of self-confidence in order to win the race, Sean McDermott displayed a fine tenor instrument to grace the composer’s more lyrical flights. Reva Rice, who sang Pearl, the girl Rusty finally wins back, mercilessly belted out her lyrics, although she wisely shifted gears to milk the audience’s sympathy with her “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” retread aria just before the finale.

In the role of Poppa, Jimmy Lockett oozed infectious inspiration with his big gospel baritone. Ron DeVito merged macho bravado with an unassailable physical presence in the role of Greaseball, the diesel engine that runs on malice. He was no Sherrill Milnes, but then he didn’t have to be.

If composer Lloyd Webber occasionally succeeded at clever imitation, his lyricist Richard Stilgoe specialized in the humdrum. His hymn to mindless optimism that is the musical’s grand finale, “Light at the End of the Tunnel,” gives commonplace a new and more precise definition. By comparison, it makes Oscar Hammerstein’s heart-clenching “You’ll Never Walk Alone” seem like the Te Deum.

This spiffy production, which plays through Dec. 31 at Civic Theatre, is highly recommended for children.

Charmed by a Choo Choo

by John F. Karr 11th January 1990[5]

Starlight Express Golden Gate Theatre through Jan. 28, 243-9001

Joy to the world! At last, there’s a musical in town— a skin-tight, shout out, full- throttle jolt of tunes, talent and high octane fun. And I do mean Starlight Express.

I was fully expecting to loathe Starlight Express. Yet this cocker spaniel of a show pleases with tail-wagging simplicity. First, it’s got no story, no concepts, no ideas to clutter things up. Se¬ cond, it’s got wall-to-wall bouncing tunes. Third, it’s got a mess of great singing/dancing performers. And last, it’s got some really exciting, razzle-dazzle lighting effects.

The people in Starlight Express play trains. Steam, Freight, Diesel and Electric, pitted against each other in The Big Race. There’s just enough skullduggery between them, as well as a touch of inter-boxcar romance, to call a plot.

But not much. The show is hardly more than a series of divertissements, each colorful enough to hold the attention of a child, and not long enough to exceed it. The first act is taken up with the introduction of four trains, and two preliminary heats of the Race. The second act reveals dirty deeds and romantic couplings before the race is played out and capped by a tumultous gospel finale. It’s just that simple.

And simple is probably what makes it so enjoyable. Originally conceived as a kids’ show, Starlight Express unfolds with the uncontrived ease of a child’s pop-up picture book. So the story is told in the cleanest strokes — no details here — leaving room for great swooshings of action and music. And with a synthesizer-heavy band, there’s a lot of kinetic sound whizzing through the Golden Gate Theatre.

The score turns out to be Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best. Perhaps he should write children’s musicals more often. Free of the pretensions and weight of his other scores, in which he always seems to be trying to prove something, the songs for Starlight Express are Webber’s equivalent of Bye Bye Birdie — ebullient, unself-conscious percolating pleasers, including boogie woogie, classic blues and C&W, to full out rock and roll.

Starring as the engines in Starlight Express are four guys. There’s only one word for Ron DeVito’s recreation of his Broadway role of Greaseball, the diesel engine: Stud. This guy’s packin’ a pair of thighs to kill, swathed in black leather and studded with metal. He’s also got Great Romancer good looks and a robust voice.

Sean McDermott is appealingly All American as the ever- valiant steam engine, Rusty, and sings beautifully. And although Todd Lester’s face is hidden behind make-up, his costume reveals a tautly compact body as he carouses through the role of Red Caboose (and oh, that little red codpiece!). Lester is an exciting dancer and a unique singer.

Last, there’s much more than six feet of Eric Clausell as Electra, the AC/DC electric train, played in amusing gender-bending androgyny like a cross between James Brown and Grace Jones. It’s gay femme stereotyping, but done with elan and in fun.

While the much-touted spectacle of the Broadway production has been largely left behind in this touring version of the show, that may be to its benefit. Newly directed and choreographed by Arlene Phillips (choreographer of the original), the emphasis is now on the music and performers. And that can carry it; the former spectacle may have been off- putting.

We’re certainly not put off by the lighting effects that remain; I’ve never seen such an array of electrical bedazzlement. Clouds of smoke come and go, providing the canvas for the light’s tracers that are so theatrical; and lasers provide an impressive finale.

I could complain about some Force-Be-With-You gobbledygook that’s kinda murky. It amounts to You Can Do It If You Try. But there’s no message here; just some bad guys who fight dirty and lose, and a good guy who plays fair and wins. A kid’s story.

That very simple mindedness becomes part of the fun. There’s mirth in the unadorned avowals of love, loyalty or duplicity; they’re right out of The Perils of Pauline.

If you’ve found contemporary musicals clogged by ideas, ossified by concepts, or musically anemic, then say thanks that in Starlight Express someone is still writing the kind of mindless, tuneful, innocently merry show that Gerry Nachman is always looking for. This one is neither boy-and-girl twaddle like Molly Brown or overreaching seriousity like Into the Woods. I’m not saying I like it better than a Bennett or Sondheim show, or that its better than them. But if there isn’t room for this kind of skintight, hoot ’n holler fun in our musical theatre, then something’s wrong.

I had a swell time at Starlight Express. It made me a kid again. No, it’s not musical theatre. No, it doesn’t advance the art form. What it does do for nearly two hours is entertain.

STAGE REVIEW : A High-Tech ‘Starlight’ Pulls Into the Pantages

By SYLVIE DRAKE Feb. 24, 1990 [6]

OK, enough bad-mouthing of “Starlight Express.” Somebody had to come up with this show. And if that someone was going to be anyone, it might as well be Andrew Lloyd Webber and those technological wizards at the Really Useful Theatre Company. Who else would be better equipped to give us the superconductor version of “The Little Engine That Could”?

This is “Star Wars” on Wheels, folks. The Great Train Race on roller skates. Not only that, but this Nederlander/Columbia Artists/Concerts International/Pace Theatricals touring production of “Starlight” that opened at the Pantages Theatre Thursday is a slimmed down, tighter transmutation of the original. And all to the good. In this one, part of the racing shows up on screen in a clever intercutting of live and filmed action. It only adds to the tongue-in-cheek, the grain of salt that you have to marshal to accept this show--assuming you want to accept it at all.

Did someone say “soulless”? What do you mean, “heartless”? Little Guy wins out over Big Guy, heartless? Good conquers Evil, soulless? More amazing still: This is the first show to really fit the Pantages. And, yes, it’s glitzy, metallic, humanoid fun, if you like circuses and if your heart is under 12, whatever age the rest of you may be.

“Starlight Express” is a sound and light show. Plus. The music? It sounds like disco. The story? It’s a refashioning of that oldie-but-goodie about this little steam train, Rusty (Sean McDermott), who huffs and puffs his way to victory in a race with slicker models, eventually knocking out the electrified, Dieselized, computerized competition. The songs (Richard Stilgoe did the lyrics)? Predictable and--er--racy, in the literal sense. Realism? Forget it. This is action fairy-tale time.

On that level, it’s hard not to gawk at the sheer cosmic wonders of David Hersey’s lighting effects (supersensational ones with laser beams and dry ice) or his army of performing lights (they swivel in unison). And one would have to be pretty dead not to thrill at John Napier’s chrome-plated Captain Marvel costumes or his swirling, Roller Derby track that figure-eights right out into the audience.

But there’s more. Such as those roller-skating cast members who have a grand time swooping and sliding and sashaying, playing characters with such lip-smacking names as Greaseball (Ron DeVito), Espresso (Steven Cates), Electra (the loose-limbed Eric Clausell), Hashamodo (Glenn Shiroma), Weltschaft (Fred Tallaksen), Krupp (Nelson Yee), Turnov (Steven K. Dry), Volta (Kimberly A. Gladman) and Wrench (Renee Lynette Chambers).

These are not quite as mouth-watering as T.S Eliot’s cat names in “Cats,” but they aim for the same effect. There are other characters with more prosaic monikers, such as Red Caboose (Todd Lester) and the inspirational Poppa (Jimmy Lockett). But after a while you stop noticing and just go with the flow.

Flow--fluidity--is the essence of Arlene Phillips’ roller-skating choreography. She also directed this touring version (largely recreating Trevor Nunn’s original staging), which maximizes the humor by bringing it close to home. “Rolling Stock,” the opening number, sees the “trains” flying their national flags, including the California state flag. The big bully, Greaseball, is clearly marked “Union Pacific” (a social comment here?), and if you watch the road signs in the filmed portions of the races, you’ll notice “Flagstaff” and “Pomona” and “Welcome to Los Angeles” right up there with the rest.

This is a key to “Starlight’s” express intent: to amuse for a while and to dazzle. It does both. Don’t look for depth. Even the love interest (yes, there is one) is about as deep as Barbie’s and Ken’s. But it’s also hardly the point. Plotwise, you wouldn’t want anything serious now, would you? Not any more than in “Cats” or in “Phantom of the Opera,” for that matter. This show is all about what hits the eye and to a lesser extent the ear. It is not about what hits any deeper regions of the psyche. “Starlight Express” doesn’t reach there. But taken at sheer face value, it’s a kick.

At 6233 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood, Tuesdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., with matinees Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 and Sundays at 3. Ends April 1. The show then moves to the Orange County Performing Arts Center April 3-15. Tickets: $20-$47.50; (213) 410-1062 or (714) 634-1300.

Chicago Tribune, February 1990


Andrew Lloyd Webber`s musicals are often criticized for being full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. He writes driving, pop-flavored scores, and he works with some of the world`s top stage designers to create visual spectacles. Yet his music can be incredibly trite at times, and his stories are often weak.

Such is the case with ``Starlight Express,`` a touring production of which is visiting the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. This musical fantasy about trains derails more often than it stays on track, and it doesn`t build up steam until the very end of its journey.

Lloyd Webber`s gimmick is that the trains are depicted by performers on roller skates. They zip around a set that is designed with ramps and bowls on and the effect is stunning.

The touring set has been reconceived from the monstrosity that John Napier designed for London and Broadway. The North American touring production is touted as the biggest and, at $5 million, the most expensive tour of a Broadway musical ever mounted. It travels the continent with an immense set and other properties, as well as a cast, orchestra and crew of 77. This set looks like a rock-concert stage, complete with lasers, fiber optics and lights that move and change colors.

The design is appropriate in an unfortunate way, since the show feels more like a concert than a piece of musical theater.

``Starlight Express`` is structured as a boy`s dream about his toy train set. The heard but unseen boy envisions an international train competition that ultimately becomes a contest between an oily, bullying diesel called Greaseball (portrayed by Ron DeVito), a high-tech electric named Electra (Eric Clausell) and an outdated but dependable steam engine called Rusty (Sean McDermott).

Arlene Phillips` direction and choreography are frequently intriguing. The performers execute moves such as spins, splits and cartwheels on their roller skates, which are quite amazing. Yet the spectacle wears thin because the story and music don`t hold one`s attention.

Editorial - 'Starlight Express' On The Road: A Mega-musical

May 27, 1990 By Thomas O'Connor, Orange County (Calif.) Register [7]

Some things grow bigger than their makers. Frankenstein's monster, for instance. The Trump divorce wars. Or Starlight Express.

"People have said that Starlight Express was a mistake. That's valid," composer Andrew Lloyd Webber told an interviewer in London recently. "Let's say it's my least favorite show."

So who needs him? He only wrote the music. Let the British tunesmith sniff all the way to the bank.

From its 1984 London debut, Starlight Express has grown like topsy. What began as a modest, child's-eye evocation of choo-choo trains has become a high-tech theatrical extravaganza of unprecedented dimensions, a show that asserts its claim to fame on the strength of sheer bulk and gee-whiz expense.

The musical straps roller skates on 24 gaudily costumed performers and sends them whooshing around the stage and over the audience, via a 44-foot skating ramp. The story, about a whimsical cross-country train race, is a cartoon-scale child's fantasy, told in Richard Stilgoe's lyrics.

If Starlight Express lacks even its own creator's respect, the touring show (which opens at Carr Performing Arts Centre in Orlando Tuesday) can instead claim: - At $5 million to assemble, it is the most costly touring production of a musical in American theater history.

  • At 50 tons of sets, lighting equipment and costumes, it is the heftiest show ever to take to the road.
  • A cast of 24 and a touring entourage totaling 76, including a roller-skating coach (who doubles as a stage manager).
  • A 50,000-pound aluminum lighting truss, 7,000 sheets of plywood, 22 miles of fiber optics, 800 lights, 75 pairs of skates, 30 wireless microphones, two laser beams and one portable computer for the production overseer to keep track of everything and everyone else.
  • The first press kit in theater history to enclose a three-page history of roller skating (it credits creation of the first pair of roller skates, in 1760, to one Joseph Merlin, a Belgian inventor who promptly crashed himself through an expensive plate-glass mirror).


"It's very similar to a rock show," the tour's production stage manager, Randall Whitescarver, said.

He wasn't just referring to the 36-speaker electronic amplification system Starlight totes, or to the laser effects and 50 computer-controlled Vari-Lites, equipment said to offer a choice of 1,400 different colors in a myriad of shapes and intensities.

"It takes 10 trucks to carry all of this from city to city," Whitescarver said. "Now on a lot of rock shows I used to do, eight trucks would be a big show. I did the Kiss tour in 1979, at the height of their popularity. That was an eight-truck show. Despite its girth, the current 26-city national tour is a smaller, gentler Starlight Express than the production that ran 22 months on Broadway in New York, winning a Tony Award for John Napier's costumes."

In New York, Whitescarver said, "We had massive, three-story-high sets, and a lot of moving bridges that gave us the space to do the races." The tri-level bridges, suspended from the roof of the Gershwin Theatre and weighing up to 16 tons, extended above part of the orchestra seating area, providing tracks for the roller-skate trains to "race" above spectators on the ground floor.

The bridges' sheer bulk made it prohibitive to duplicate them for a touring production, where portability is at a premium. Every additional hour spent loading a show into and out of each theater tacks on thousands of dollars in labor costs.

"The solution was to put the races on film," Whitescarver said. "We start them live, then cut to film, then come back and finish it live. Film gave us the opportunity to do some stunts you could never do onstage. You can't ask an actor to take a 9-foot fall every night."

Together, the four racing segments make up only about five minutes of the show. According to Whitescarver, who has worked on Starlight Express for more than three years in New York, Germany and briefly in Japan, "The thing this version lacks is having a huge set that goes out and surrounds the audience. But what we gain is that the story and characters are not dwarfed by a monster set. The storyline is clearer."

"It's a cleaner version, and you're closer to it. There's still a 44-foot ramp that comes into the audience, so we get out there a little bit."

Even with its scaled-down dimensions, the Starlight Express tour has strained some of the theaters it has visited since November, particularly older sites that can pose problems of access. In January, installing the show in Seattle's downtown Paramount Theatre took more than 25 hours, twice the time required at the next stop, Vancouver.

"It was a nightmare in Seattle. We had to come down this great, long ramp to get into the theater. So I had to bring in each piece as it fits into the puzzle, instead of bringing in the puzzle and sort of laying it out and putting it together. You have to unpack on the streets."

Review - "Starlight Express" Clobbers You

May 30, 1990 - By Elizabeth Maupin, Sentinel Theater Critic [8]

You can look at Starlight Express one of two ways.

You can look at this Andrew Lloyd Webber musical as a little boy's dream, blown up into Technicolor and throbbing with sound. Or you can look at it as a show suffering from testosterone poisoning - a show afflicted with too many male hormones, rocketing wildly, relentlessly out of control. How else to explain the noise, the commotion, the incessant concern with who wins a silly race?

That the race is run by railroad trains impersonated by performers on roller skates makes Starlight Express a little more interesting and a lot more bizarre. It's a case of a cute little idea run outlandishly and monstrously amok.

In the scaled-down touring production that opened Tuesday night as the Orlando Broadway Series season finale, Starlight Express accomplishes what the New York and London productions also managed to do - to entrance those looking to be thrilled by sound, light and spectacle, and to pique, perplex and annoy almost everyone else.

Your interest in Starlight is likely to depend on how much you want this show to resemble a real play - a creation with character and plot. And your fascination with Starlight is apt to rest on how contented you are with such lyrics (by Richard Stilgoe) as Woo woo, nobody can do it like a steam train and Freight is great.

But, in Starlight, lyrics and music never matter as much as spectacle - set, sound, costumes, lights that grab theatergoers and beat them mercilessly over the head.

The touring production still does that, although one small track circling the front of the theater replaces Broadway's two larger ones and each race's crucial moments are seen only (and ineffectively) on film. The sound (if not the music) still bowls you over, the colored lights still blind you, and the costumes still look like they came from a heavy-metal comic book. (One helmeted train appears to have a miniature Airstream trailer on his head.)

Director/choreographer Arlene Phillips' cast members do well enough with all this: They're mildly appealing, although hardly a one has the charisma to shine. Dawn Marie Church rises above the rest as Dinah, a dining car with a funny country-western number called U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D. Everyone else is fine, although the voice of the narrator - a woman playing a little boy - is grating more often than not.

But the cast is not what Starlight is all about; neither is the plot, which lets the male cars do the racing and leaves the women around to snivel. Starlight Express isn't meant for regular theatergoers but for the video generation, who can't sit still for anything else. Little boys who've played too much Nintendo will love it. Those with unexercised trigger fingers may want to race on by.

The Washington Post - June 15th 1990

THEATER - By David Richards. June 15, 1990[9]

You can take away the lights, the costumes and the special effects of some musicals and still have a musical. The success of "The Pajama Game" doesn't depend on the latest designer sleepwear, and a state-of-the-art staircase is not mandatory for "Hello, Dolly," although a staircase of some sort is. "A Chorus Line," as we all know, calls for no more than a white line painted on the stage floor.

But if you strip "Starlight Express" of its laser beams and the banks of cumulus clouds that regularly billow across the stage, if you remove the extravagant costumes that make the actors look as much like trains as actors can rightfully expect to look; if you suppress the myriad lights sweeping the ceiling and dusting the stage in throbbing Day-Glo colors, you really don't have much left.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, which opened last night at the Kennedy Center Opera House, is a spectacular nonentity.

You may want to see it because the 24 actors on roller skates, who play a variety of engines and cars, whiz out into the audience on a specially constructed circular runway that Minsky would have admired. You may want to see it for the evocation of the Starlight Express, who, as I understand it, is the Great Locomotive in the Sky and the source of the faith that moves mountains. You may want to see it just for the look -- a marriage of comic book and high tech -- that designers John Napier, Rick Belzer and Ted Mather have imparted to matters. Other reasons are harder to come by.

Actually, no one wants to move mountains here. Rusty (Sean McDermott), an amiable little steam engine, wouldn't mind winning the great cross-country train race, however. He is up against some formidable competition -- Greaseball, the slick diesel; Electra, an electric-powered blur; Hashamoto, the embodiment of high-speed Japanese technology; not to mention entries from France, Italy, Russia and Germany, all flying the appropriate colors.

The show is the race. More accurately, the show is two trial heats, the race and, since some dirty tricks get sprung on the hero, a rematch. At Rusty's lowest ebb -- elbowed off the track and down in the dumps -- he appeals for help from on high. That leads to the show's biggest effect. In the vee formed by two laser beams aimed at the upper balcony, the cosmos seems to swirl, all glassy green, while in the distance, three great purple tornadoes undulate slowly.

Meanwhile, the music swells and the resonant offstage voice of Jimmy Lockett, singing "I Am the Starlight," urges Rusty to believe in himself. Talk about an encouraging pat on the back. Like a medieval knight going into battle, our reinvigorated steam engine takes to the tracks again and beats the big guys over the L.A. finish line. You could say that "Starlight Express" is "The Little Engine That Could," played out on the scale of "The Ten Commandments."

From the start, the show's novelty has been its roller-skating cast, speeding over the straightaways and leaning into the hairpin turns like seasoned bruisers in the roller derby. With each successive incarnation, however, the track has shrunk. In the still-running London production, the performers leave the stage and circle around the audience. The 1987 Broadway production stayed pretty much behind the proscenium, but the racecourse was three-tiered, which necessitated all sorts of ramps and drawbridges.

The version at the Opera House, although complex by touring standards, is the simplest yet. Once the skaters have taken a spin around the runway, they disappear into the wings and the race continues on film, projected on a large upstage screen. The performers don't reappear in the flesh until the final stretch. This robs the show of a lot of its excitement. Since it is all but impossible to tell who's ahead at any given point, Rusty's gallant last-minute rally from behind has to be taken on faith. If the Kentucky Derby were handled this way, the stands wouldn't exactly be packed.

Lloyd Webber's score comes in a variety of modes -- rock, country-western, gospel, rap. It's mostly pleasing music that avoids the sense of momentousness that is the composer's pitfall. Over-amplification all but annihilates Richard Stilgoe's lyrics, but when you can catch them, they tend to be along the simple-minded lines of "Freight is great" or "Locomotion is what we need, if we're ever going to get up speed."

The show tries to carve out distinct personalities for the various trains and cars. The Red Caboose (Todd Lester), for instance, is a sweet-faced traitor; Greaseball, the diesel (Ron DeVito), is a swaggering Elvis figure; Dinah (Dawn Marie Church), the dining car, is his girlfriend, who laments that she's been "U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D." after he throws her over. But Napier's imaginative costumes really do most of the work. Lloyd Webber and his team were far more successful at anthropomorphizing cats. Or maybe it's just harder to love a boxcar.

Nonetheless, McDermott's pluck serves him well as Rusty, and he has the boyishness that sets young girls squealing. As Pearl, an observation car torn between two engines, Reva Rice gets the show's ballads and brings considerable heart to them. Lockett makes a good-natured old steam engine, and if Eric Clausell has modeled Electra, the haughty electric train, after Grace Jones, his performance must be deemed successful.

Director and choreographer Arlene Phillips doesn't ask the impossible of the cast, but every now and then, someone on skates will do a flip or a split or a high kick and you'll gasp. Of course, you wouldn't bat an eyelash if a dancer in tennis shoes kicked the very same kick. Eight little wheels make all the difference.

In more ways than one, "Starlight Express" couldn't run without them.

Starlight Express, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; lyrics, Richard Stilgoe. Directed and choreographed by Arlene Phillips. Costumes, John Napier; lighting, Rick Belzer and Ted Mather; associate scenic designer, Raymond Huessy. With Ron DeVito, Sean McDermott, Reva Rice, Dawn Marie Church, Todd Lester, Jimmy Lockett, Eric Clausell, Anthony Marciona, Nicole Picard. At the Kennedy Center Opera House through July 14.

  1. Fraley, Michal: Skating the Starlight Express (2011), ISBN: 978-1-4583-7432-5
  2. Fraley, Michal: Skating the Starlight Express (2011), ISBN: 978-1-4583-7432-5
  4. 4.0 4.1 STAGE REVIEW: ‘Starlight Express’ Explodes With Pizazz, 29th December 1989
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Bay Area Reporter, Volume 20, Number 2, 11 January 1990"
  6. 6.0 6.1 STAGE REVIEW : A High-Tech ‘Starlight’ Pulls Into the Pantages Feb. 24, 1990
  7. 7.0 7.1 'Starlight Express' On The Road: A Mega-musical, May 27, 1990
  8. 8.0 8.1 Review - "Starlight Express" Clobbers You 30th May 1990
  9. 9.0 9.1 The Washington Post - June 15th 1990
    The Washington Post, June 15th 1990
  10. Chicago Tribune, February 1990
    Chicago Tribune, February 1990 - By Daryl H. Miller, Los Angeles Daily News.