Andrew Lloyd Webber joined the final curtain call for his long-running musical, Starlight Express, which finished its 18-year West End run last night (Saturday, 12 January 2002) after 7,406 performances at the Apollo Victoria theatre.

The show entered the record books - not just for being the second longest-running musical in the West End, bettered only by fellow Lloyd Webber blockbuster Cats, which celebrates its 20th West End birthday this year - but also for being the first West End show performed entirely on roller skates. Since opening, it has been seen by over eight million people and taken more than £140 million at the box office.

Lloyd Webber wrote Starlight Express, a tribute to the era of steam trains, for two of his children who are now in their 20s and who also attended last night's performance, along with others connected with the show, celebrities and self-confessed Starlight addicts, many of whom have seen the show hundreds of times.

The musical originally opened at the Apollo Victoria on 27 March 1984, at which time six miles of timber, two and a half acres of sheet wood and 60 tonnes of steel were used to construct the complicated, multi-tiered racetrack set. In 1992, five new songs were added to the score and the show was completely re-choreographed, re-directed, re-lit and the set refurbished. A new single and album were released in March 1993.

Following last night's performance, Lloyd Webber and the company were rewarded with a standing ovation and deafening cheers. The composer assured the crowd that the West End departure would not be the end of Starlight Express. He said: "I promise it's never going to go away at all for any length of time. We will find a way of doing it again."

Plans are already underway for a national tour, complete with purpose-built arena, and a television project has also been mooted. Following Starlight into the Apollo Victoria is Bombay Dreams, a Bollywood musical produced by Lloyd Webber, which premieres on 19 June 2002, following previews from 31 May.

- by Terri Paddock