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The Broadway production of Starlight Express opened on 15 March 1987 at the Gershwin Theatre, where it ran for 761 performances, closing in January 1989. This version featured extensive revisions to the plot and the addition and omission of several musical numbers. [1]

Creative Team

Background

Fearing a backlash against his success as a 'Brit on Broadway', Lloyd Webber became convinced that Starlight ‘should never go anywhere near’ Broadway.[2]

The plan instead was to take the same approach as he had done with Jesus Christ Superstar: release a concept album then present a touring production in arenas across America.

The concept album album was recorded. But RUG producer Brian Brolly ultimately accepted a lucrative offer from Broadway producer Jimmy Nederlander to ‘shoehorn Starlight into one of his Broadway houses’[2]. The Broadway production amassed an advance box office of over $5 million.

Starlight Express began previews at the Gerswin Theatre on 24th February. It opened after 22 previews on 15th March.

Differences to the London production

By 1987, Starlight Express had been running in London for almost 3 years. As they approached the second production, the creative team took the opportunity to develop the material – both revising the story and songs and adapting the show for an American audience. The changes they made affected every aspect of the show, from plot, music and characters to set and costume design and choreography. In his playbill note for the production, lyricist Richard Stilgoe joked that there were ‘eight crates of rewrites’ somewhere in Manhattan.[3]

Changes to characters

Changes to the plot/structure

  • Rather than racing simply for the accolade "Champion Engine of the World", the trains raced for a prize, the "Silver Dollar".
  • The "Entry of the National Engines" was moved to the beginning of the show, in the place of the Overture.
  • "Pumping Iron" was moved from after "Freight" to after "AC/DC", reframing the song as Greaseball making a direct challenge to Electra
  • The race structure changed from 3 heats with 1 winner each in the final, to 2 heats with 2 winners each in the final. Rusty didn't race in the heats at all, making Belle redundant. (This decision would lead to Belle being cut from the show in later productions)
  • For the "Downhill Final", Rusty appeared transformed, like Cinderella at the ball. Rusty even introduced himself as "The Starlight Express". None of the other characters recognised him, not even Control.
  • After the "Downhill Final", Caboose stole the Silver Dollar. The company accuse Rusty of having stolen it, and he consents to being searched if the opposition have to do likewise. This led to a lengthy slapstick chase ("The Chase"), at the conclusion of which was Caboose crashing into Greaseball and Electra. However, this gave the actor playing Rusty at most 3 minutes to change costume between one of the biggest songs and the most athletic race number. Also the costume was not particularly distinctive in the fast-paced scenes, and while it had fine details the overall effect was not sufficient to justify the effort needed.

Changes to the songs

  • "Engine of Love" was used when Rusty brought the Coaches in near the beginning of the show.
  • Pearl was removed from "A Lotta Locomotion", so it was sung only by Dinah, Buffy and Ashley.
  • "He Whistled at Me" was replaced with a ballad, "Make Up My Heart."
  • "There's Me" became a duet between Caboose and Dinah.
  • "The Rap" was rewritten to become the "Hymn to Victory/Silver Dollar" as the original, mainly concerning Rusty's predicament, was irrelevant.
  • "No Comeback" was cut. The disguised Rusty idea was scrapped during the Broadway run and reverted back to Rusty entering the Final as himself, and "The Chase" being cut completely. Greaseball, Caboose, & Electra then sang "One Rock 'n' Roll Too Many", rearranged with choreography that was more slapstick and less sexual innuendo-laden. Pearl sang a brief reprise of "Make Up My Heart" ('It's thanks to you that things worked out all right. I knew it from the start. Now I know I've made up my heart.'), however it was cut early in the preview period. "Only He" was replaced with an expanded "Only You", and the show ended with "Light at the end of the Tunnel."

Changes to the set design

The Broadway budget was also much larger than the budget in London. As the New York Times noted, Starlight Express was 'beefed up' for America – the ‘limbo-like’ setting of the London production was replaced by a ‘miniature toy-land America festooned with landmarks, from the Golden Gate Bridge to the New York skyline’ that ‘lit up like a pinball machine’.[4]

Changes to the costumes

The increased budget also allowed the production to fully realise John Napier's costume designs. Many characters were completely re-designed however, with an overall bigger, squarer feel to the costumes - closer to the mechanical, and further from the human elements of the characters.

Cast Recording

A cast recording was not made of the Broadway transfer. However, the production was preceded by a concept album that features versions of many of the songs recorded by American artists.

Reviews and Media Coverage

Trivia

To build the set, 120,000 pounds of steel, 7,000 sheets of plywood, 22 miles of fibre optics, 1,500 feet of fluorescent tubing were required.

The Gershwin Theatre has been home to the long-running hit musical "Wicked", as has the Apollo Victoria theatre in London, home of the original London production of Starlight Express.

Casts

1987 Cast / 1988 replacements
Rusty Greg Mowry Pearl Reva Rice
Greaseball Robert Torti / John Schiappa Dinah Jane Krakowski
Poppa Steve Fowler Ashley Andrea McArdle / Stacia Goad
Electra Ken Ard Buffy Jamie Beth Chandler / Lola Knox
Rocky 1 Frank Mastrocola / Bryan Batt Krupp Joey McKneely / Roger Kachel
Rocky 2 Sean Grant Wrench Christina Youngman / Stacey Heinz
Rocky 3 Ronald Garza Purse Gordon Owens
Rocky 4 Angel Vargas Joule Nicole Picard / Kimberly Blake
Flat-top Todd Lester / Michael O'Steen Volta Mary Ann Lamb / Danielle Burgio
Dustin Michael Scott Gregory / Keith Allen
Caboose Barry K. Bernal / Todd Lester Belle Janet Williams Adderley
Bobo AC Ciulla / Brian Carmack Swing Michael-Demby Cain
Espresso Philip Clayton Swing Mark Frawley
Weltschaft Michael Berglund Swing Anthony Galde
Turnov William Christopher Frey / Ron DeVito Swing Lola Knox
Hashamoto D Michael Heath / Ken Rose Swing Christine Langner
Prince of Wales Sean McDermott Swing Ron Morgan
Poppa Cover Danny Strayhorn Swing Amelia Prentice
Swing Dwight Toppin Swing Broderick Wilson

Replacement Swings: Dorie Herndon, Harold Yi, Roger Kachel, Marvin Engran, Terri Homberg, Dawn Marie Church, Marty Simpson, Janice Lorraine Holt, Jennifer Prescott

Booth Singers: Melanie Vaughan, Paul Binotto, Lon Hoyt, Mary Windholtz

Control: Braden Danner

Mother: Melanie Vaughan

Video

STARLIGHT EXPRESS B'way

STARLIGHT EXPRESS B'way

Press Reel - filmed early in dress rehearsals, 1987

Gallery

Photo gallery


  1. www.playbillvault.com Starlight Express
  2. 2.0 2.1 Unmasked, Andrew Lloyd Webber
  3. Richard Stilgoe's playbill note, Broadway 1987
  4. NY Times Review, March 1987