Rusty, our little Steam Engine protagonist, is deliberately un-prepossessing in appearance. As his name suggests, he is rusting and poorly maintained. He wears dungarees as you'd expect to see on a junior member of the Steam Engine crew, a hat or sweatband to keep his hair out of his face. Elements of the steam engine are incorporated in his costume - he carries his coal tender as a backpack, the firebox doors on his torso.
In the original London production, Rusty's costume was based on a stoker's dungarees and hat, with the firebox doors on his chest and a coal tender on his back. He had pressure gauges on both doors, and his overalls were striped behind a decoration of black and brown. Under them he wore a short-sleeved shirt, entirely brown and grey with rust and dirt. He wore a large, round hat similar to the Rockies. Throughout the 1980s his costume only altered in small details, with the colour becoming a stronger brown, and the shapes more certain and defined. The similarities between Rusty and Poppa were pronounced, with only the colour scheme of brown/black and grey/green clearly telling the two steam engines apart.
In 1992, the "New Starlight Express" saw the show updated, giving our young hero a modern, trendy baseball cap. Otherwise his costume only changed in slight details until 1997, when his under-shirt was made much more elaborate, quilted and patterned to match his dungarees. This made his costume look more impressive, but in losing the contrast between the shirt and dungarees, lost the clear working class roots to the design.
When the musical went to Broadway, Rusty's costume was significantly redesigned, and this costume has been used in all subsequent productions. As with other characters, the Broadway transfer's bigger budget allowed a more fully realised interpretation of the original design. Every part of his costume became patterned and embellished, with mechanical panels edged in guard rails becoming the sleeves of his top. These sloping shoulders play an integral part in the character of his costume: the silhouette appears weak and unassuming compared to Greaseball, for example, who has exaggerated shoulder pads emphasising his broad, strong physique. Next to the other engines Rusty looks small and pathetic.
During the first half of the musical's Broadway run, Rusty not only had his Broadway costume, but after the Starlight Sequence, he had another costume that was only black and silver, and rather than the "boiler plate" on his chest, he had the Starlight Express logo, making him unrecognisable to anyone else at the train-yard. This was harking back to the original concept of the story being based on "Cinderella" - as Rusty appears at "The Ball" after meeting his "Fairy Godmother", nobody recognises him in his beautiful new look.
This concept proved to be impractical, with Rusty having only a couple of minutes between the Starlight Sequence and the final race to completely change his costume. Also, the "Starlight Express" costume lacked visual impact, being a shiny black that was superficially similar to the Gang costumes, and while it was the same design as his first costume but without the rust, for much of the audience this small detail was not readily apparent as his first costume was also quite dark. The costume change was dropped while the show was still in previews, however he does appear in the publicity photos of the finale.
The Broadway costumes went on to be used on the 1989-1991 US Tour, and the Japan/Australia tour and the original Bochum costumes were built alongside the Broadway costumes, resulting in the initial versions all being very similar.
As the show progressed through the Las Vegas, US and UK tours, Rusty's sleeves which were originally sloping and long, became shorter and shorter and ended up having the opposite effect - where the original longer sleeves made Rusty's silhouette seem weak and minimising, the shorter sleeves work to appear as shoulder pads, emphasising Rusty's outline and having a similar effect to Greaseball, on a smaller scale.
In Bochum, Rusty's costume has had only the slightest of variation between 1988 and 2017, the only notable change being in his headwear. Initially he wore the Broadway hat, with a headband and sometimes a wig if the actor's own hair was not suitable. In 2002, Rusty adopted the baseball cap from London, which was the same textures as the original hat but re-made into a more modern shape, and the wig was not seen again. The cap was rarely seen after 2004, only used in place of a wig.
Make-Up: Rusty has relatively simple make-up, keeping his face more human-like. He always has a bronze dot on his nose to emphasise his features onstage. He wears brown eye makeup, has bronze lips and circles on his jaw, resembling rivets. His cheeks are usually covered in small symbols representing rust and dirt.
John Napier re-worked many of the costume designs for the German production's 30th anniversary. Rusty saw a relatively small update, with his boiler plate being re-designed, and the hat that had been out of use for many years restored. The whole costume is given an over-size feel, making the performer seem smaller and more frail under it.
The basic concept of the characters in Starlight Express is that of toy trains come to life in a child's dream. However fans have speculated on possible real-world rolling stock that could provide a headcanon equivalent for the characters seen onstage.
His appearance could be of a 2-6-0 Mogul locomotive.