The West End production, directed by Trevor Nunn and choreographed by Arlene Phillips opened on 27 March 1984 at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, where it ran for 7,406 performances. The theatre was overhauled to include a race track that extended into and around the stalls and around the front of the dress circle.
As the original production of a show with almost entirely new material, there was no template for the producers to work from in creating this production. The first few years were included songs, characters and plot points never used subsequently.
- Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
- Lyrics by Richard Stilgoe
- Directed by Trevor Nunn
- Choreographed by Arlene Phillips
- Designed by John Napier
- Lighting by David Hersey
- Sound by Martin Levan
- Production Musical Director David Caddick
- Orchestrations by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber
- Produced by The Really Useful Theatre Company
Following a successful workshop in 1983, full-blown rehearsals for Starlight Express began in January 1984 at the ‘deliciously run-down’ Tropical Palace in Willesden.
Lloyd Webber recalls that on the first day, ‘Trevor Nunn gave his usual lengthy opening speech. The sight of Trevor lecturing Arlene Phillips’s body poppers about the “moral, emotional and metaphysical centre” of our railroad show was alone worth the price of admission.’
OpeningStarlight Express opened at the Apollo Victoria Theatre on 27 March 1984. Lloyd Webber dedicated the material to his children, Imogen and Nicholas.Opening Night controversy
Starlight Express’s opening night was infamous. A BBC outside-broadcast truck was parked outside the theatre, waiting to capture the response from audience members on their way out.
Fifteen minutes from the end of the show, the truck started transmitting on the same frequency as the radio microphones being used onstage. Lloyd Webber recalls that this ‘all but destroyed Stephanie Lawrence’s big number “Only He” and caused huge mirth in the finale when Lon Satton hit the lines, “There are dark days ahead when the power goes dead.”
When Starlight Express’s sound designer identified the problem, the BBC refused to turn their transmitter off. Lloyd Webber theorises that the BBC sabotaged the evening, hoping to create news by capturing negative responses from the audience.
The original production of Starlight Express told a fairytale story about the group of toy trains, come to life in a child's dream. The story is told in detail here.
You can see the full list of songs here.
Several songs were replaced or tweaked in or around 1988. This was done to incorporate revisions from the Broadway production.
Engine of Love replaced Call Me Rusty, and appeared immediately after Rolling Stock. Following Taunting Rusty Rusty has a few lines with the melody of Call Me Rusty (This is gonna be the day), and, as with Call Me Rusty, the coaches then warn him that he is simply not tough enough to race.
The focus of the coaches' subsequent recitative (Rusty, You Can't Be Serious) changed. As Rusty was no longer onstage, the coaches warn Pearl not to race with Rusty rather than warning Rusty not to race.
Make up my Heart replaced He Whistled at Me, and some events were reordered. In the original version Rusty and Pearl have a discussion, then she sings her song, then Purse invites her to race with Electra. In the updated version Purse invites her to race, then Rusty and Pearl have a discussion, then Pearl soliloquises.
There's Me had some lyrical changes. In particular, the final verse became a duet between CB and Dinah.
Belle's Song had some lyrical changes.
Starlight Express had some lyrical and melodic changes (becoming the version which starts "When the night is darkest" rather than "When your goodnights have been said").
C.B.'s song had some lyrical changes. A short discussion was also added after the song between CB and Electra. Before the song Greaseball asks CB whose side he is on: in the original version he says "I'm on mine" but in the updated version he tells Greaseball "I'm on yours!" and admits to Electra after the song that he is only on his own side.
Some recitative was cut before Light at the End of the Tunnel: Ashley and Buffy no longer reflect on finding love on the railroads, and the company no longer tell Control to "Shut it!".
1992: The New Starlight Express
In November 1992, the London production, christened The New Starlight Express, was relaunched with heavy revisions to the material, partly influenced by the intervening productions.
Revisions to characters
Belle, having proved incompatible with the shorter 4-race system on Broadway, was cut from the show. In the Broadway production she simply appeared, sang her solo, then "went back to sleep" and was only seen again at the end of the show. This went hand in hand with revising the race structure to two eliminator heats, rather than three.
Cutting C.B. required a near complete overhaul of the plot (though the lighting design didn't change - his spotlight still came up in "Freight" right up to the last performance of the show), as without a clear cut villain, Rusty, Electra and Greaseball had to cause their own problems or be the victims of circumstance to move the story along.
The 2nd and 3rd-class sleepers were no longer seen, as moving "Pumping Iron" meant that the performers who had filled those roles were now onstage as Components.
Revisions to songs
Four songs were added:
Eight songs were cut:
- Engine of Love
- There's Me
- Belle's Song
- Race: Heat Three
- Wide Smile, High Style
- Only He
- Only You
Three songs were rewritten:
- Call Me Rusty returned in a shorter version.
- Hitching and Switching
- "The Rap", as the debate over whether or not Rusty should be allowed to race a second time had become redundant. Instead, 'The Rap' became an anthem to racing. Pearl still switched engines to Electra, leaving Dinah uncoupled.
- With Belle gone, Ashley and Buffy carried "Rolling Stock (Reprise)" by themselves, allowing them each more vocals.
Revisions to the plot/structure
"Entry of National Trains" moved from after "Freight" to the opening of the show.
"Pumping Iron" was moved to immediately after "AC/DC", shifting the intention from Greaseball merely boasting to a direct challenge to the newcomer. Greaseball now interrupted Electra, cutting off the end of the preceding song.
Rather than winning a heat each, as in the 5-race structure, Greaseball and Electra come first and second in the first heat, securing places in the final for each of them. Rusty now didn't race at all until the final, only reluctantly taking Poppa's place at the end of Act 1. Poppa won the second heat with Bobo coming second.
After the Uphill Final, when Dinah uncouples Electra, with no C.B. he partners Buffy instead for the Downhill Final. Rather than being crashed intentionally, Electra and Greaseball crash accidentally at the end of the race. Electra also took one of Greaseball's spoken lines ("You mean I could be converted to steam?" became "D'you think I could be converted to steam?") afterwards to be included in the scene.
There were two cast recordings made of the London production - the 1984 Original London Cast, and the 1993 "The New Starlight Express". Both are partial show recordings, the Original Cast Recording gives a sense of the full show with some recit scenes linking the main musical numbers, however large sections of plot are seamlessly removed from the double album. The New Starlight Express recording is a one-disc highlights album, designed to be complementary to the original and provide the updated numbers rather than try to represent the whole production.
1984 Original Cast
Subsequent Casts 1985 - 2002
Photos of the production are divided by year.
|1984 Gallery||Misc Gallery|
|1985 - 1992 Gallery||1992 Gallery|
|1994 Gallery||1995 Gallery|
|1996 Gallery||1997 Gallery|
|1998 Gallery||1999 Gallery|
|2000 Gallery||2001 Gallery|
Articles and News
- 1985 - Reassurance for Investors in the £2 million musical Starlight Express who have complained of slow returns - Andrew Lloyd Webber predicts that now the heavy initial investment has been recouped profits will soar with a return of 40% in the next 12 months. 'We hope it will run for at least another three years and although it won't make as much as Cats it will be very profitable ' says Andrew.
- "The Wheel Thing" - Carole Waddis, 2000
Press Pack statistics (2001)
- 27,600 pairs of skate laces, 27,000 skate wheels, 23,000 toe stops and 5,500 false eyelashes have been used since the show opened.
- The original London production cost £2.25m to put on, used 750 gallons of paint and varnish, six miles of timber, two and a half acres of sheet wood and 60 tonnes of steel.
- Among the most dedicated fans are the Pearson family, who allegedly watched the show every week for the last five years, and Sally Bliault, from Jersey, and Keryna Thorne-Booth who has seen over 800 performances.
- An estimated 16.5 million people have watched the show in the UK, United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, Germany and Mexico.
- More than £140m has been taken at the London box office, with a further £310m earned worldwide.
- 24 people have appeared on stage every night, with more than 200 involved in putting the show on.
- The top speed recorded by a skater was 40 mph during a rehearsal.
- In November 1992, every aspect of the production was re-worked. The show was re-directed, re-choreographed, re-lit and the set was refurbished.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Unmasked, Andrew Lloyd Webber
- ↑ Andrew Lloyd Webber's programme note for the 'New' Starlight Express, 1992
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