Andrew Lloyd Webber's dazzling psychedelic rock'n'roller musical glides into Sunderland to let off some steam for a fortnight.
With a loose plot premise of a young boy's idea of what his train set gets up to overnight, Rusty (Kristofer Harding) the steam train underdog, must compete against the muscle of diesel powered (and Elvis-esque) Greaseball (Jamie Capewell) and new boy on the track, the electric-charged Electra (Mykal Rand), to "pull" Pearl (Amanda Coutts), the first class coach, in a race to be the fastest train.
A story with not much gravitas is made up with amble amounts of colour, pyrotechnics and costumes that resemble somewhere between Transformer and a Power Rangers. The "rolling stock" of support cast displays some impressive moves on their skates with seamless direction and poise.
The non-stop musical numbers feature some highlights including “Poppa’s Blues” and “U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D”. Some trains seem to sit within a musical genre and Lothair Eaton’s soulful tones suit his role as Poppa with Ruthie Stephens adding some humour as Dinah.
The set features a back screen with rainbow effects of train-related imagery to fit the theme. But the addition of a 3D screen of the recorded race scenes, whilst a novelty and entertaining for all ages as objects “jumped” out at the audience (with the aid of the provided 3D glasses), disjointed the story. Whilst it wouldn’t have been as futuristic or glitzy, perhaps a traditional speed-skate around the limited stage with the aid of the narrator (the train controller) would have kept the continuity with the characters.
Saying this, there is nothing like jumping aboard the Starlight Express; its bright-eyed vision of the world in technicolour and simplicity shouldn’t be missed.