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. 
- Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
- Lyrics by Richard Stilgoe
- Director Trevor Nunn
- Designer John Napier
- Choreographer Arlene Phillips
- Orchestrations by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
- Musical Direction and Supervision by David Caddick.
- Musical Director Paul Bogaev
- Sound Designer Martin Levan
- Lighting Designer David Hersey
- Produced by Martin Starger and Lord Grade in association with MCA Music Entertainment Group, Stage Promotions (Four) / Strada Holdings, Weintraub Entertainment Group, inc.
Fearing a backlash against his success as a 'Brit on Broadway', Lloyd Webber became convinced that Starlight ‘should never go anywhere near’ Broadway.
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’. 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.
Changes to characters
- C.B. was renamed the Red Caboose
- Belle became Memphis Belle
- A fourth Rocky was introduced, after the film "Rocky IV" had been released in 1985
- The British Engine was re-named from City of Milton Keynes to The Prince of Wales
- The Second and Third class Sleepers were removed – with "Pumping Iron" moved, the performers were already onstage as Joule, Volta and Wrench
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’.
Changes to the costumesThe 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.
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
- LA Times Interview January 1987 -with Barry K. Bernal
- NY Times March 1987 - harsh critique, particularly to the changes from London.
- LA Times March 1987 - Lacking Charm
- Christian Science Monitor March 1987 - paid attention to the performance.
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.
Booth Singers: Melanie Vaughan, Paul Binotto, Lon Hoyt, Mary Windholtz
Control: Braden Danner
Mother: Melanie Vaughan