Starlight Express – 2012 Tour

Who needs the fat controller!

Starlight Express is on a new UK tour after it closed in the West End ten years ago. It is one of the most successful ever musicals, having played over 7,000 performances since its opening in 1984. Originally Andrew Lloyd Webber wanted to make the Thomas the Tank engine stories into a musical for his children but the author wouldn’t give him the rights and so he cooked up his own version of the little boy’s toy trains coming to life. Each character is a train including the Japanese bullet train, the Russian Trans Siberian Express and the German ICE ( Inter-continental Express) train. The main characters are Rusty the steam train (the hero) Elektra the big Electric Train, and Greaseball  the cocky American Diesel train. The show has been changed and updated many times over the years and over a dozen songs have been added or removed in that time. While the story is simple – train gets girl, train loses girl, train wins race and girl again – and the songs are not all that memorable, the show is an explosion of colour, energy and athleticism and could not fail to lift the spirits on a cold wet November night.

Carry on performing Sid!

The venue is the Sunderland Empire, opened in 1907 at the height of the great British Empire and the only theatre in the north east with a big enough stage to host the largest touring musicals and productions. Helen Mirren made her stage debut here and Sid James died of a heart attack here in 1976 during a revival run of the farce, TheMating Season. His ghost is said to haunt the dressing rooms still. A bomb narrowly missed the theatre’s dome during WWII and has it has also achieved the dubious accolade of having the most drunken and racous patrons I have ever witnessed in a theatre auditorium. They were enjoying themselves though. The costumes are fantastical and look like something out of Arnie’s 1987 sci-fi film ‘The Running man.’ The roller skating is amazing and the actors make singing and dancing while gliding around on skates look as easy as fallling off a log. They never seem to get out of puff – ha ha!

Life is a roller coaster just gotta ride it..

The lighting design is exceptional and despite the lame 3D sections which replace the actual racing around the auditorium as they did at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in London, this is a visual feast and a pure illustration of how live Theatre is the ultimate reality show. This touring cast is experienced – many have been in the show before and it shows, although they all get 2/3 months tuition in roller skating before they take to their wheels on stage. I did wonder whether they could have brought it even more up to date and introduced a scruffy, bad mannered character who was always late, called East Coast Main Line..

A train track triumph!

Do the locomotion..