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Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express | Review

This is Control, this is Control.” I first heard these words back in the summer of 1990 when I bought a day ticket for the matinee of a strange show about toy trains. I took my seat; the lights went down and my love affair with Starlight Express began. I saw the show half a dozen times during its run at the Victoria Apollo and was really surprised when it closed in 2002, assuming it would run and run. Now, twenty-two years later, in its new home of the Troubadour Theatre, Starlight is back, and I was delighted to get a chance to see it.

Jeevan Braich (Rusty) and the cast of Starlight Express. (Photo Credit Pamela Raith).
Jeevan Braich (Rusty) and the cast of Starlight Express. (Photo Credit Pamela Raith).

In a child’s bedroom Control (Shaniyah Abrahams, Cristian Buttaci, Alexander Brooks, Barnaby Halliwell, Mimi Soetan or Arabella Stanton) is playing with their trains prior to going to bed. They eventually tuck in for a night’s sleep and then move to a world where the trains are alive and getting ready for the ultimate railway race. Greaseball (Al Knott) the diesel is the favourite and while being very arrogant is worshipped by the various coaches, particularly Dinah (Eve Humphrey) as the top of the pile. Down at the bottom is Rusty (Jeevan Braich), an old steamer who nobody considers good enough for racing. But there is a new coach Pearl (Kayna Montecillo) who doesn’t know the others and makes friends with Rusty. So, the stage is set for the race to end all races when a new entrant in the shape of Electra (Tom Pigram) arrives ready to steal the crown. With the various engines in place, Rusty seems unlikely to win anything. Though maybe an old steam engine, Momma (Jade Marvin) has some advice for the young engine.

Before we start the review proper, I’m going to break one of our rules and talk about the venue. The Troubadour has been gutted and rebuilt for Starlight Express and looks spectacular. From the million glitter balls in the foyer through to Tim Hatley’s jaw-dropping set, this theatre looks as if it was built solely for this production. When Andrzej Goulding’s video design and Howard Hudson’s lighting are added, you are in the presence of something spectacular that is ready to take you on a journey like no other.  The story has been majorly re-jigged since the original production with new trains and carriages and some new and reworked songs and lyrics bringing Andrew Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe’s story up to date and removing some of the more negative elements of the original. No, it still doesn’t make sense that a rail carriage can be in love with a big old engine, but it doesn’t have to. We are looking at the story through the eyes and imagination of a child and in their world, everything makes sense. Let’s be honest, if you can accept Thomas the Tank Engine, you can accept singing trains.

Which brings us to the performances.  There used to be a time in theatre when actors were considered good if they were able to sing, dance, and act (the triple threat), but with Starlight, the actors have to be a quadruple threat as they do all this but on skates. And boy, do they deliver. The two leads, Rusty and Pearl, have a lovely romantic chemistry about them that sparks the first time they lock eyes and goes on throughout the show. Then there are the Baddies – Greaseball and Electra. Both are so different. Greaseball relying on muscle to exercise her will and Electra is a new and erotically charged enigma to draw people to them. All four actors are superb, and lead a multi-talented cast where there are no weak links. A quick mention for Control and the Marshals. The young actor playing Control is on stage a lot and has to have a certain presence to be able to control the trains, which both the actors I saw play the role, really had. And the Marshals. Well, I just wish I could do the things they can on a scooter, combining excellent aerial acrobatics and perfect timing to add an extra wow factor to an already spectacular show.

I’ve seen this production twice now and was blown away both times. Whilst everything was amazing, some of my personal highlights include the arrival of Electra and their entourage which is a visual spectacle of amazing proportions, and Rusty’s song at the end of Act I, really tugs at the heartstrings as he expresses his loss of hope and faith. And, of course, the races. The track is not massive and watching eight people – trains and carriages – and the Marshalls racing around it safely and speedily is just fantastic.

Going into Starlight Express I was a bit nervous. Would this production be as good as the one I first saw thirty-four years later, and would I, a mature(ish) sixty-year-old man, still be as invested in a story of fighting trains as that wide-eyed twenty-six-year-old seeing the show for the first time? The answer to both is OMG Yes! Everything works and works spectacularly. Starlight Express has returned, buffed up, refurbished and with a new look and feel that I believe is going to run and run. Get your skates on to see it.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

Start your engines! Andrew Lloyd Webber’s STARLIGHT EXPRESS makes a triumphant return to London at the specially designed Starlight Auditorium at Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre.

STARLIGHT EXPRESS introduces Jeevan Braich as Rusty, Kayna Montecillo as Pearl, Jade Marvin as Momma McCoy, Al Knott as Greaseball, Eve Humphrey as Dinah and Tom Pigram as Electra.

The STARLIGHT EXPRESS cast also includes Jamie Addison, Jessie Angell, Ollie Augustin, Charles Butcher, Renz Cardenas, Catherine Cornwall, Jamie Cruttenden, Kelly Downing, Isaac Edwards, Asher Forth, Sam Gallacher, Lucy Glover, Pablo Gómez Jones, Scott Hayward, Lilianna Hendy, Dante Hutchinson, Lewis Kidd, Hannah Kiss, Oscar Kong, Emily Martinez, Deearna Mclean, Marianthe Panas, David Peter-Brown, Harrison Peterkin, RED, Bethany Rose-Lythgoe, Charlie Russell, Gary Sheridan, Jessica Vaux, Jaydon Vijn, Lara Vina Uzcatia, Sharon Wattis and Ashlyn Weekes. 

The young actors are Shaniyah Abrahams, Cristian Buttaci, Alexander Brooks, Barnaby Halliwell, Mimi Soetan and Arabella Stanton.

STARLIGHT EXPRESS has music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Richard Stilgoe, is directed by Luke Sheppard, with set designer Tim Hatley, video designer Andrzej Goulding, costume designer Gabriella Slade, lighting designer Howard Hudson, sound designer Gareth Owen, new orchestrations by Matthew Brind, Musical Supervision by Matthew Brind & David Wilson,  Musical Direction by Laura Bangay and Casting by Pearson Casting.

With thrilling new choreography by Ashley Nottingham, STARLIGHT EXPRESS also sees the return of Arlene Phillips as creative dramaturg.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s STARLIGHT EXPRESS is now open in the specially designed Starlight Auditorium at Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre. Audiences will be immersed inside a world of speed, song and storytelling as an incredible cast of 40 whizz around and above, performing some of musical theatre’s most beloved songs, including AC/DC, Make Up My Heart, Light at the End of the Tunnel and the iconic Starlight Express.

As a child’s train set magically comes to life and the engines race to become the fastest in the world, Rusty the steam train has little hope of winning until he is inspired by the legend of the ‘Starlight Express’.

Seen around the world by over 20 million people, STARLIGHT EXPRESS is an electrifying experience for all ages.

Book Tickets for Starlight Express
Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre
3 Fulton Road, Wembley, London, United Kingdom, HA9 0SP

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