Andrew Lloyd Webber's Starlight Express skates into its 18th year tonight at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. To date, over 8 million people have seen the London production. In January 2001, Starlight Express presented its 7,000th performance. It is now the second longest running musical in British history, preceded only by Lloyd Webber's feline blockbuster Cats, which continues at the New London Theatre, where it opened in May 1981.

Starlight Express, a tribute to the era of steam trains, 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.

In 1999, it was widely rumoured that Starlight Express would close, bowing to the competition of Disney's Broadway hit The Lion King, which arrived that autumn at the West End's Lyceum Theatre. But closure notices have failed to materialise.

The new cast at the Apollo Victoria will include Mark McGee, Jo Gibb, Trevor Michael Georges, Dustin Dubreuil, Chris Copeland, Amy Field, Lucie Fentum, Helen Latham, Scott Murtaugh, Leo Bidwell, Algernon Williams, Richard Ray Allen, Martin Neely, Todd Talbot, Ross Dawes, Dale Branston, Craig Scott, Stuart Hickey, Mark Oxtoby, Jamie Capewell, Kate Alexander, Louise Jones, Paul Ramsay, Emma Dodd and Richard Woodford.

Starlight Express has taken over £110 million in London alone. Worldwide, the show has been seen by more than 18 million people and box office revenues have topped £430 million. Productions have been mounted in New York, Las Vegas, Japan, Germany and Mexico with additional tours in the US, Canada, Australia and Japan.

Starlight Express has music by Lloyd Webber, with lyrics by Richard Stilgoe. It is directed by Trevor Nunn with design by John Napier, costume design by Liz Da Costa, choreography by Arlene Phillips and lighting by David Hersey. Sound is by Martin Levan, with musical direction by David Caddick and Neil Cleary. It is produced by the Really Useful Theatre Company.

The musical is now booking at the Apollo Victoria up to 27 October 2001. The theatre will be closed for refurbishment for one week from 7 May, with performances re-commencing on 14 May 2001.

- by Terri Paddock