Starlight Express the Musical Wiki
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On 11th August 2017, it was announced that Andrew Lloyd Webber and members of the original creative team will come together to revisit the show in a week-long workshop, culminating in three public performances at The Other Palace Theatre in London.

Tickets for the public performances sold out within 7 hours. To meet demand, two additional performances were added to the schedule on Wednesday 13th and Saturday matinee. Andrew Lloyd Webber, Arlene Phillips and Richard Stilgoe were present at all performance, with Lloyd Webber and Phillips giving a speech to set the scene before each performance.

Creative Team

Rationale

In 2017 Lloyd Webber visited the Bochum production and found it 'unrecognisable' following years of incremental revisions. As he explained to the audience:

I went to go and see the show, which is still running in Germany, in Bochum, for very nearly 30 years now, and it kind of was unrecognisable as the Starlight Express that I remembered and I was involved with writing: it just changed over the years, and there had been productions of it and tours and productions all over the world, and things had got changed, and it just suddenly occurred to me that if there was ever to be a future for Starlight – [if] we're going to let it go on – that we needed to get the material right back to its roots, right just back to the music and just see if there was a future for it...[1]

Arlene Phillips added that in 2018 the 'overall tone of the show [now appeared] a little bit sexist'[2].




Staging

The workshop was performed as a semi-staged concert version, without roller-skates, special effects and minimal choreography. This allowed the creative team to make changes to the material quickly, which they did for each of the performances.

Control was performed live by Jude Harper-Wrobel, sitting above the action and playing with an iPad.

Notable changes to the material

The workshop process resulted in many interesting new ideas. These included changes to the characters and the music. Despite Lloyd Webber's stated intent to take the show back to its roots, in terms of the material, the script used was predominantly the most recent, 2012 touring version of the show, with elements of the 1984 and 1993 London cast recordings influencing the musical numbers.

Before the final performance, Lloyd Webber told the audience that, while he didn't think they got everything right so far, they were confident in the direction they are developing the show:

"I think we've worked out how to get the show back to the essence of what it's all about. And now if anybody does want to produce it again, we can all say, 'look this is the score'.

Therefore the updates made to the Bochum production for its 30th anniversary in May 2018 were not exactly what was seen in this workshop.

Characters

Immediately notable in the cast list is the role of Poppa has changed gender to Momma, played by Mica Paris. In place of Ashley and Buffy, the coaches are named Tassita and Belle. This character is not Belle the old Sleeping Car, Poppa's coach, rather the name has been re-used in place of Duvay for a sleeping car. Tassita is introduced as the Quiet Car by the other coaches. The French Engine has become a female engine named Coco; The German Engine is now Rheingold, and The British Engine is named Brexit. The Japanese Engine is named Nintendo as in later London and UK Tours. Electra has returned to five Components, with the addition of Kilowatt the Security truck.

As well as Poppa/Momma and Bobo/Coco, Hip Hopper 3 has also changed gender to become female. During AC/DC, Volta appears as male, however during the race the role is played by one of the female ensemble, so it is understood to be the limitations of the small ensemble rather than a planned gender switch for Volta.

Music

The "Overture" is heard, after Control's mother sings him the "Starlight Express" refrain as a lullaby, but shortly before the end of the Overture Control interrupts shouting "Stop this Boring music!", then leading into "Entry of the National Trains".

"Crazy" has been shifted to the second song, replacing "Call Me Rusty" / "Engine of Love". It is then used throughout the show as a motif surrounding Rusty, much as the "Call Me Rusty" melody is also heard throughout. Often it is in addition to, rather than instead of, the original motif.

A new song has been added, "I Got Me", with lyrics by Lauren Aquilina. This is the Coaches' introduction song, and used in reprise for "Dinah's Disco", "Rusty King of the Track", and as a coda to "I Do". Melodically the song closely resembles "Rolling Stock", with the opening line "I got me, and that's all I need" following the melody of "Don't stop now, you gotta keep it (going all night)". The lyrics focus on female empowerment and freedom, these characters are tired of being pushed around and disregarded and they can win on their own. In the context of introducing the coaches, this is somewhat out of place, and doesn't tell us anything about the individual characters as the original "Lotta Locomotion" did.

All musical references to "Belle's Song" and "There's Me" have been removed from the score, with Caboose's motif being the "Wide Smile" melody throughout. Most references to "He Whistled At Me" / "Engine of Love" have been removed, except the melody is used as an introduction to "Make Up My Heart", giving Pearl a longer scene as she chooses between Electra and Rusty. Consequently Caboose's verse in "Freight" is re-written to the "Wide Smile" melody, which is one element of his change in character.

The "No Comeback" melody is heard more often in conjunction with the races, as each entrant in the heats introduces themselves singing that melody, beginning "Clear my track..." the exception being Momma introduces herself with the "I Got Me" melody.

"Starlight Express" is the "When the Night is Darkest" version, with new tweaked lyrics for the verses.

"The Rap" performed is an a capella development on the 1992 "Are You Ready?" version of number, with updated references such as "Swipe to the right" included and various small lyric tweaks.

"Wide Smile, High Style" is performed in the full 1984 London version including the CB radio references and using the name "CB" where elsewhere in the show he is referred to as "Caboose".

Cut Songs include "There's Me", "Belle's Song" (this version of Belle is not the old sleeper but a development on Duvay), "Girls Rolling Stock", "Right Place Right Time" was only performed on the Friday night, and cut at the other performances.

Cast

Cast
Rusty George Ure Pearl Christina Bennington
Greaseball Oliver Tompsett Dinah Natalie McQueen
Momma Mica Paris Belle the Sleeping Car Sabrina Aloueche
Electra Liam Tamne Tassita the Quiet Car Laila Zaidi
Hopper 2 / Nintendo / Voltar (AC/DC) Carl Man Hopper 3 / Joule / Volta (race) Divine Cresswell
Hopper 1 / Kilowatt / Rheingold Michael James Stewart Coco / Wrench / Gang Parisa Shahmir
Dustin / Espresso Anthony Selwyn Flat-Top / Turnov / Purse Jamal Andreas
Caboose / Brexit Patrick Sullivan Control Jude Harper-Wrobel

Press Release

We're excited to announce three concert-style workshop performances of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Starlight Express, playing in the Theatre on Thu 14 , Fri 15 and Sat 16 Sep. 

Members of the original creative team of Starlight Express will collaborate again, along with a group of carefully chosen actors and musicians to explore the piece. Focusing on the score and lyrics, and working for a week before the public showings, Andrew and the team will continue to work on the show in the daytime before evening performances, responding to audience reaction and feedback as they navigate the exciting process of revisiting this classic work. 

Starlight Express originally opened in the West End in 1984 where it ran for over 7000 performances, and continues to run in a purpose built venue in Bochum, Germany where more than 15 million people have seen it. The Bochum production celebrates its 30th anniversary next year.

References

  1. Lloyd Webber's spoken introduction to the workshop production at The Other Palace, London – September 2017
  2. Starlight Express revival will put women centre stage, says Arlene Phillips". Evening Standard.
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