Review: Starlight Express @ New Wimbledon Theatre


Starlight Express is back and if there is any justice it is here to stay!


By Charlene Cole

Starlight Express is back and if there is any justice it is here to stay!

The futuristic, rock musical was the staple of London’s West End, running for nearly 18 years [1984-2002], with 7,461 performances.

I was excited to see Bill Kenwright’s production of the show after previously seeing his production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat twice, and he did not disappoint.

The story originally written by Andrew Lloyd Webber for his children, tells the tale of toy trains that come to life in the mind of a young boy with the characters competing for the title of the fastest train in the world.

The trains are actors on roller-skates and for two action packed hours the multi-talented cast put in spectacular performances singing, acting, dancing and skating simultaneously.

The first act opens with the voice of Control [Georgina Hagen] playing with his toy trains; the stage at this point features colourful, visual images of trains racing along a track to showcase this – simple and effective.

Control then falls asleep and from then on the tempo is turned up.

The fantastic orchestra strikes up the music and the audience is introduced to some of the cast skating around a dimly lit track to Overture.

Before the end of the opening song Greaseball [Jamie Capewell] a cocky, alpha male diesel train and his helmeted gang dramatically interrupts. Rising out of smoke they perform Rolling Stock a song boasting how fast diesel trains go.

The themes of love, hope and adversity feature in the show. These factors can be found with its protagonist characters Rusty [Kristofer Harding] and Pearl [Amanda Coutts].

Rusty, a steam train is mocked by Greaseball for not being fast and strong, but with the support of former steam champion Poppa [Lothair Eaton] he aims to prove them wrong.

Starlight Express has some elements that seem reminiscent of Grease, the coaches – Pearl, Dinah [Ruthie Stephens], Duvay [Kelsey Cobban] and Buffy [Camilla Hardy] – having Pink Lady qualities.

When Pearl sings the ballad Make Up My Heart her look and the emotion of the song made me think of Olivia Newton-John singing Hopelessly Devoted to You.

The make-up and costume is glitzy and flamboyant especially with the camp Electra sporting a striped mohawk and superbly played by associate director and choreographer Mykal Rand.

Photo courtesy of Jens Hauer

Kristopher Harding plays Rusty well with a sense of vulnerability that makes the audience root for him.

Arlene Phillips’s roller-choreography is amazing to say the least – energetic and well executed by the cast, daredevil stunts are performed by a duo also.

The race sequences are viewed in 3-D adding an element of audience interaction, while the lighting would not be out of place at a rock concert.

The music got better throughout the show and the vocal ability of the performers was notably impressive.

Standout tracks from Richard Stilgoe’s memorable soundtrack include Dinah singing the witty, western style U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D. Lothair Eaton displayed his deep, soulful vocals on Big Poppa’s Blues and the Hip-Hoppers Right Place, Right Time added a fun contemporary twist as it incorporated breakdance.

A second rendition of Light at the end of the Tunnel bought this outstanding show to a close and rapturous applause from a satisfied audience.

It had all the factors you want in a musical – imaginative, catchy songs, dazzling costumes, energy and fun.

Starlight Express promised to take audiences ‘on a ride of a lifetime’ and it did just that.

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