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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Starlight Express
Apollo Victoria Theatre      1984-2002

January 2001: Despite a glittering launch in 1984, how many could honestly have said that, 16 years on, they would see Starlight Express chugging through its 7,000th London performance (on January 9, 2001), a record bettered only by its elder sibling Cats?

And so Pearl clones and Rusty groupies were packed to the rafters to celebrate Andrew Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe's musical about love and rust on the railways.

A 1993 revamp by the original team, including director Trevor Nunn and choreographer Arlene Phillips, still shows its freshness and, propelled by John Napier's design and John Hersey's lighting - surely the real stars of the show - Starlight ranks as a phenomenon right up there with Pokemon and the Dome. As a dramatic work, however, its merits are less obvious.

The songs are mostly blatant pastiches (Uncoupled) or belters that havel ost their puff (Make Up My Heart), and the plot swiftly derails - the love interest as the Engines and Carriages couple up and the battle for supremacy of steam, diesel and oil are mere devices that link the songs and justify an obvious climax.

The sound is both tinny and woolly, the races meaningless, and things only pick up in the second half of Act II. Additionally, betraying its early eighties genesis, there is a disturbing level of stereotyping straight out of an Aerosmith video.

As expected, the cast's voices match their impeccable skating. Adrian Hansel's Rusty and Marissa Dunlop's Pearl easily steal the show with the ballad Next Time You Fall In Love (lyrics by Don Webb), while Trevor Michael Georges' Poppa pulls The Blues screaming into the 21st century.

Although the composer attended the aftershow party, an appearance on stage for the gathered faithful would have been nice. Still, we should be grateful to Lloyd Webber and Apollo Leisure for so successfully keeping bums on seats beyond the West End.

Nick Awde

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Review of  Starlight Express - Apollo Victoria Theatre 1984-2002