Starlight Express

Previewed from 19 March 1984, Opened 27 March 1984, Closed 12 January 2002 at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in London

The Trip of a Lifetime! Imagine a theatre transformed into a dazzling futuristic rollercoaster track. High speed racers flash past you, behind you and even over you! Sparks fly as the battling teams seek supremacy on the track, driven to greater feats of daring by the terrific score. Andrew Lloyd Webber's world-wide smash hit musical has something for everyone to enjoy, from breath-taking antics on the track to the glamour of behind-the-scenes romances. A track-side seat at Starlight Express is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Fastest Show on Earth!

Starlight Express features music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Richard Stilgoe. This production is directed by Trevor Nunn with choreography by Arlene Philips, designs by John Napier, lighting by David Hersey and sound by Martin Levan. A 'refurbished' version of Starlight Express which features some new songs and music opened on 23 November 1992.

"Eight and a half years on and the leaves have been cleared from the rails, the signalling updated, and a newly refurbished Starlight Express zooms along the tracks. Some new music has been added by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, in honour of his six-month-old son, Alastair... Lloyd Webber's gift for the big romantic tune seems more attenuated than ever. Conversely, where music-theatre chutzpah as opposed to music is concerned, he comes up trumps. Act II now opens with a rap number for full company: wonderfully drilled, infectiously energetic, exhilarating... Elsewhere, the score skilfully echoes blues, rock and ballad idioms without ever achieving an individual character... Arlene Phillips's choreography and Trevor Nunn's direction are still sinewy, spiky and graceful... The only dated thing about the show is, alas, its hymn of faith to railways and coal." The Times

"Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, the man with the Midas touch, has another hit on his hands. The surprise of Starlight Express is not that it is good - we all expect that now - but that it works at all. The Apollo Victoria has been converted into a giant race track above us, behind us, and in front of us, around which the cast, playing locomotives and coaches, roller skate at phenomenal speeds trying to beat each other in a fantasy railroad race... Arlene Phillips has taken choreography to the absolute limits. And the costumes and sets by John Napier are - quite literally - out of this world... There is nothing here that comes within a whisker of Cats or Evita for originality... But there seems no point in worrying about that in a musical that surpasses anything around in every dimension." The Daily Express

"Starlight Express, Andrew Lloyd Webber's new musical, is a hymn to the age of the steam train. But the ultimate irony is that it takes a £1.4 million John Napier set, a multiple-level roller-skating track, and a Spielbergian flow of special effects to celebrate a pre-electric heaven... The result is a computerised fairy story, a theatrical Star Wars, in which the human element is constantly struggling to get. I don't deny that it is all done with mechanical ingenuity... The blunt fact is that Lloyd Webber's music and Richard Stilgoe's lyrics might be more enjoyable if they were not surrounded by such a vast carapace... On the credit side, choreographer Arlene Philips has miraculously turned the skaters into dances, got them doing cartwheels, spins, and falls, and achieved movement that is actually in character... But, although the show has its excitements it creates more problems than it solves. It reminds one that the musical is about heart as well as art, about people rather than effects, about the joy of human contact" The Guardian

The choreographer Arlene Philips on the problems of staging a 'roller-skating' Starlight Express: "When I was a kid I used to share strap-on roller skates with my sister, one skate each. But as I became more involved in dance, which I started to study at the age of three, I dropped the skating. Now I'm confronted with the problem of making those heavy boots with four wheels move in a graceful, dancey way. And a lot of the cast are kids right off the street - terrific skaters, but they have never had a dance class in their lives, and it's been an exhausting battle to make them understand the discipline needed. There have been moments when I've despaired, but as I'm being paid well to learn a new job, I've just had to get on with it. It's very hard to do leaps and lifts on skates, because the performers are weighed down by those damned boots, and though you can spin easily, you can't really do a proper pirouette. It's even harder with roller skates to get a good line than it is with ice skates. The dance element has to come from the line and the angle. Everything else is speed and amazing acrobatic tricks and athleticism... Touch wood, except for the odd twisted ankle, everyone has survived intact so far. When I first saw the set at the Apollo Victoria I thought, 'Oh God, how are the kids going to cope with that!' But protective padding is built into their costumes and they wear helmets, and after almost three months of rehearsal they're all very fit. They have to be. Me, I'm worn out!"

Starlight Express in London at the Apollo Victoria Theatre previewed from 19 March 1984, opened on 27 March 1984, and closed on 12 January 2002.