The Starlight Express Theater is a theatre in Bochum, Germany. It was built to house the German production of Starlight Express, which opened in 1988 and is still running.
The theatre holds the Guinness World Record for the most visitors to a musical in a single theatre: 13,044,148 as of 8 March 2010, when the record was made.
Starlight Express was brought to Germany by producer Friedrich Kurz and his company Stella Entertainment. In 1986, Kurz produced the German premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats in Hamburg. Buoyed by its success, he lobbied the mayor of Bochum to help fund a production of Lloyd Webber's latest musical, Starlight Express.
Kurz promised that a resident production of Starlight Express would deliver 750,000 tourists every year to Bochum, as well as create jobs for local people and raise Bochum's cultural image. In return, he asked that the City of Bochum fund the cost of building a theatre to house the production.
The project was agreed, with extra funding secured from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The decision to spend so much public money promoting a commercial theatre project resulted in protests from some local artists.
A site for the new theatre was chosen next to one of Germany's most-used motorways, the Ruhrschnellweg ("Ruhr Fast Way"). The site is also near to the stadium where VfL Bochum, a professional football team in Germany's second division, play their home games.
Opened as der Starlighthalle ("The Starlight Hall"), the theatre cost 24 million marks and was built in 14 months.
Initial safety issues
The opening of Starlight Express in Bochum was delayed by a month following concerns about the set's safety. During early rehearsals on the set, original Flat-top Mark Hogarth broke his leg in three places and had to leave the company. An inspection of the set by skate coach Mark Davis led to the realisation that parts of it had been incorrectly built. The company returned to the rehearsal studio for a month while the offending parts of the set were rebuilt, causing the show's opening to be pushed back.
The auditorium features U-shaped race tracks on two levels. The audience sits in the middle and around these tracks. On stage, the tracks run over three levels, allowing several race combinations.
The production's official website offers a 360° panorama view of the auditorium, as well as many high-resolution photographs of the show.
In 2003, a Y-shaped track was added to the smallest inner track, the Parkett, dividing it into 3 seating areas and allowing more flexibility of staging and more tricks for the skaters. This reduced the seating capacity of the "Parkett" from 236 to 160.
In 2008, the theatre introduced swivelling "360° seats" to the front two sections of the Parkett. They also added a 'rake' to the back section of the Parkett. This means that the floor of the auditorium slopes up away from the stage, giving people at the back a better view of the action. These changes reduced the seating in this area to 130, however the seating was reconfigured in a few other areas in the theatre to make up for this loss of seats.
In 2018, the theatre received a significant technical upgrades as part of the 30th anniversary production. The programme was overseen by the production's original designer, John Napier, and sound designer Gareth Owen.
In the auditorium, new sound, lighting and projection mapping technology was installed, upgrading or replacing technology that was in some case, 30-years old. In addition, the stage was repainted in grey to suggest a gravel pit at a freight yard and make the new projections stand out. A lift was installed under the stage to raise the actor playing Rusty two meters into the air during the Starlight Sequence.
Backstage, a modern digital intercom was installed to allow the technical crew talk to each other more reliably. The control system for the bridge was also updated, with manual joysticks replaced by simple buttons cuing pre-programmed movements.
In 1998, for the show's 10th anniversary, the foyer was given a "train station" make-over, with industrial style detailing, murals on the ceiling and statues of original, out-dated characters Weltschaft and Rocky IV in the centre of the central bar. The most distinctive element was a large cast board, with station-style scrolling letters to spell out messages as well as name the cast for that performance.
In 2018, the foyer was redesigned. The 20-year old themed concept was removed in favour of a slick, modern environment. The large sky-light was filled with a star field, and the industrial theming replaced with understated furnishings and a bright red carpet.
- Friedrich Kurz, Wikipedia
- Fraley, Michal: Skating the Starlight Express (2011), ISBN: 978-1-4583-7432-5