The much anticipated Bill Kenwright production of Starlight Express rolls in the Lowry Theatre. Not noted for being one of the greatest stories of all time, this musical tells the tale of a 9 year old child’s playtime with his trains in which he races his trains against each other in the world championships. Within this is the love story between Rusty the steam engine (Kristofer Harding) and the first class carriage Pearl (Amanda Coutts).
The big draw of this show is not the music or the story but the fact that it is performed entirely on roller skates. In the original London production at the Apollo Victoria saw the skaters perform on specially built out ramps out in to the auditorium.
However, in a touring production this is simply not possible so screens are used to show the races between the trains which involves the audience wearing 3D glasses. The stage in the Lyric Theare (one of the largest outside London), normally grand and imposing, looks small and cramped in this production as the skaters and small ramps fill the stage with little room for the stunts and high intensity skating one might expect and as seen in the original production.
Arlene Phillips’ choreography and direction cannot be faulted though, as this production does its best to rise up and meet the challenges of such as demanding show being out on tour. Nick Richings' design works tirelessly to compensate for this and the starlight sequence is truly stunning.
The cast are faultless and provide tremendous energy and pace to recreate the action and drama associated with this show. There are a number of highly experienced skaters and former Starlight Express cast members from all over the world in this production and the quality really shows. Mykal Rand’s Electra is hypnotic and Greaseball is as cocky and arrogant as he should be in the capable hands of Jaime Capewell. Ruthie Stephens’ Dinah - the restaurant car is pitched to perfection with her entertaining rendition of "U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D."
Attempts have been made to update the score in the production which is very of its time however the addition of an electro beat in places only serves to highlight just how dated Starlight Express is. Some numbers have been cut and others replaced. Notably "Next Time you Fall In Love"; itself not an original song but an additional and is arguably one of the best songs in the show and replaced with the new "I Do" a duet between Rusty and Pearl written by Alistair Lloyd-Webber. It is performed beautifully but lacks depth.
It is hard not enjoy a show like Starlight Express. It is simply good fun and has a childlike quality that shines through. It is not an emotive highly charged piece but it is highly entertaining and a great piece of family musical theatre. There is indeed a "Light at the End of the Tunnel" and long may it glow.