Andrew Lloyd Webber's Starlight Express, the second longest- running musical in West End history, is to bow out on 12 January 2002. The show has been running at the Apollo Victoria Theatre since March 1984, and will be replaced by Lloyd Webber's next production Bombay Dreams.

However, despite having been seen by over eight million fans since its opening, plans are afoot for the show to go out on a national tour. A television series based on Starlight is also apparently being mooted. Richard Stilgoe provided the lyrics for the show which is now expected to go on further tours abroad. A version has been running in Bochum, Germany in a purpose-built arena for over a decade.

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 multi-tiered racetrack set. The story concerns Rusty, a steam engine who loses in love but regains his confidence when he links up with the gleaming Starlight Express.

A new single and album were released in March 1993, after five new songs were added to the re-directed show. In 1999, it was widely rumoured that Starlight would bow to the competition of Disney's Broadway hit The Lion King. But closure notices failed to materialise at the time.

Star names to emerge from the Starlight stables include Mel B of The Spice Girls, who trained in the Skate School in 1995. Saffron, the lead singer with rock band Republica, performed in the musical for two years. And recognition for the production’s design came when John Napier received the 1987 Tony Award for Best Costumes.

The astonishing run of Starlight only been bettered by another Lloyd Webber offering, Cats. A spokesperson for the Apollo Victoria told that the theatre was fairly likely to remain dark following the January closure: "The set for Starlight is such an enormous one that it could well take some time to dismantle. Also, we expect Lloyd Webber's Bombay Dreams to open in the venue some time around early summer 2002, so obviously it will be another major task to install everything that's required for the new show."

Bombay Dreams is a collaboration by Lloyd Webber with the Indian musician AR Rehman and the filmmaker Shekhar Kapur. Lloyd Webber has stated that he aims to bring elements of India’s tinsel town, referred to as Bollywood, to the stage. The plot will centre on a young Indian man who arrives in Bombay with aspirations in the movie world. Having recently explored traditional Irish music within The Beautiful Game, the composer is expected to underpin the new show’s score with comparable elements from India.

Andrew Lloyd Webber said: “Starlight Express has had an amazing run. It is a show very dear to my heart as I wrote it for my children and its final performance will be a very emotional experience for all of us who have been close to it for the past 18 years. 12 January 2002 will be a chance for us to celebrate Starlight in its original London home safe in the knowledge that as we say goodbye to it here, plans are well developed for its future life elsewhere. I look forward to introducing it to new audiences and to new generations of theatregoers.”

Starlight Express was originally directed by Trevor Nunn, with choreography from Arlene Phillips. It has also been produced in America, Japan, Australia and Mexico.

- by Gareth Thompson