There's dancing in the aisles at the Millennium Forum as Andrew Lloyd Webber's monster musical rolls into town
It’s that same old story. Train meets carriage. Train falls for carriage. Train loses carriage. Train saves carriage’s life. Train wins carriage back. You’ve heard it a million times before.
Starlight Express is about a race. Five trains are gathered to see which is the fastest. There’s one from Russia, Britain, Japan, Germany and the United States. A late entrant comes in the form of Electra, a sleek, flash, electric train who fully expects to take the crown from Greaseball, the US diesel and reigning champion.
And then there’s Rusty. He’s a dirty old steam train, good only for hauling goods and sorting things for the contestants, who look upon him with scorn and contempt – no better than the rolling stock. But he’s got hopes and dreams and a deep burning love for Pearl, the first-class carriage.
Pearl likes Rusty well enough. He’s sweet and funny, but he’s no Electra. And when Electra asks her to couple up for the race (all contestants need to pull a carriage) she’s off, leaving Rusty so distraught he withdraws from the heats. It’s up to Poppa, an ancient engine, to secure a place in the final for steam.
There’s a fair bit of coupling and uncoupling. Dinah the restaurant car, who is head over heels in love with Greaseball, is ditched by the diesel. He’s got his eyes on Pearl, and no sooner does he toot his whistle at her than she’s off. Electra can’t whistle you see, which makes all the girls – Pearl, Dinah, Buffy the buffet, and Duvay the sleeper – all a bit suspicious of him...
But there will be no spoilers here. Suffice it to say that come the end, everyone – Pearl included – is converted to steam. Leaving aside some dubious sexual politics, Starlight Express is just tremendous fun. It’s all flashing lights, music, crashes, smashes and 3D glasses. Children will love it, but not just children.
With music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe, choreography by Arlene Phillips, and production by Bill Kenwright, there’s a team here that knows what it’s doing, knows how to please a crowd.
And it certainly does that.
The stage at the Millennium Forum in Derry~Londonderry dances with lights. The live music, conducted by David Rose, fills the theatre. The score is fast, thrilling, daft and great entertainment. No particular song stand out for me, but they are all of a good enough standard to keep things jumping. On my row, people dance in their seats – and I bet it's the same elsewhere.
Starlight Express is a big musical production that relies on energy and vibrancy form the cast – and, remember, it's all done on roller skates! The entire cast contributes breathtaking athleticism and skill, and there’s not a weak point.
Kristofer Harding plays Rusty, all downtrodden and plucky. Amanda Coutts is Pearl, who gives a dazzling performance. Jamie Capewell’s Greaseball is Elvis on skates, swivelling his hip and slicking back his hair, loving being a bit of a villain, but seeing the light at the end.
Ruthie Stephens as Dinah, however, stands out. She gets to sing the best song, as she laments being 'Uncoupled' from Greaseball. She can’t bring herself to say the words, so she has to spell it out. The song’s final line gets a big, deserved laugh.
Starlight Express receives a standing ovation on this particular night of a five-night run in Derry, and it is merited too. We were enthralled, captivated, amazed. Of course, that might have been because we’ve not seen any sign of a train in these parts for months. But I doubt it.
Starlight Express is at the Millennium Forum, Derry, until Saturday, February 9.