The first US Tour, a scaled down production directly descended from Broadway, ran in the U.S. and Canada from November 1989 – 12 April 1991.
James M Nederlander, Columbia Artists Management Inc., Concert Productions International, Pace Theatrical Group present:
Starlight Express - Tracking Across America on Tour
Executive Producer Gartchell & Neufeld, Ltd
Production Supervisor Perry Cline
Technical Supervisor Jeremiah J. Harris Associates
Casting by Johnson-Liff and Zerman
Musical Director Paul Bogaev
Conductor Jan Rosenberg
Automated Lighting designed by Aland Henderson
Film designed and produced by Kevin Biles Design
Sound Design by Martin Levan Sound Design
Tour lighting designed by Rick Belzer and Ted Mather
Costumes designed by John Napier
Associate scenic designer Raymond Huessy
Directed and Choreographed by Arlene Phillips
Assistant to Arlene Phillips Ilse Challis
Dance Captain James Walski
Skate Coach Michal Fraley
Scenic Construction and Automation by East Coast Theatre Supply Inc.
Costumes executed by Parsons Meares Ltd
The tour was a direct development from the Broadway production, inheriting some of the cast, as well as costumes and musical choices. The material was developed from the Broadway production, simplifying some story elements. The characters of Belle, Rocky 4, and Prince of Wales were cut.
Rather than scaling the show up to fill stadiums as the 1987 Japan/Australia tour had, the set was small enough to fit regular regional theatres. The races were mostly on film- with the racers zooming out to circle the stage from behind the screen occasionally. The set was obviously very restricted by the necessities of tour, but a small loop of race track extended out into the audience and a start gate/bridge was incorporated into the set design.
Cincinnati, Ohio - Opened November 7th 1989
Sacramento, California - 19th - 24th December 1989
Pantages Theatre, Los Angeles - February 1990
Orlando, Florida - May 1990
|Rusty||Sean McDermott||Pearl||Reva Rice|
|Greaseball||Ron DeVito||Dinah||Dawn Marie Church|
|Poppa||Jimmy Lockett||Ashley||Rachelle Rak|
|Electra||Eric Clausell||Buffy||Nicole Picard|
|Rocky 1||Ronald Garza||Krupp||Nelson Yee|
|Rocky 2||Dwight Toppin||Wrench||Renee Chambers|
|Rocky 3||Angel Vargas||Purse||Jamie / Michael-Demby Cain|
|Flat-top||Dennis Courtney||Joule||Angela Pupello|
|Dustin||Anthony Marciona||Volta||Kimberly A Gladman|
|Bobo||Peter Liciaga||Swing||Steven M Schultz|
|Espresso||Steven Cates||Swing||Steve Kadel|
|Weltschaft||Fred Tallaksen||Swing||Bobby Love|
|Turnov||Steven K Dry||Swing||Ricky Mujica|
|Hashamoto||Glenn Shiroma||Swing||Meera Popkin|
|Swing||Jeanna Schweppe||Swing||Matt Terry|
|Swing||Chera Wilson||Swing||Brett Stone|
|Chorus||Mary Denise Bentley||Chorus||Paul Binotto|
|Chorus / Control||Lori Flynn||Chorus||Lon Hoyt|
Facts and Figures
- The production, including the set, lighting, computers, and costumes, weighs approximately 50 tons. It is the biggest set in theatre history.
- Ten 48 foot tractor trailers are required to move the show from city to city. This is an unprecedented figure.
- It will require 60 people 12-20 hours to load-in the set in each theatre and the same number of people six to eight hours to take the set out of each theatre.
- 50,000 pounds (25 1/2 tons) of aluminium.
- 7000 sheets of plywood.
- A skating ramp will extend 44 feet from the front of the stage, over the orchestra pit and into the audience.
- 22 miles of fiber optics will create a star-field of 10,000 points of light (A phrase coined by "Starlight Express prior to the 1988 Presidential campaign) to create the Starlight effect.
- 800 stationary lights
- 500 lights built into the aluminium deck.
- 50 Vari-Lites, a special moving computerised light capable of emitting 1,400 colours.
- The production will utilise six separate computer systems for the sound, stationary lights, Vari-Lites, lasers, film projection and scenery. Each system has one back-up computer except the scenery which has four different back-ups, including two computers, one electronic and one manual method.
- The costumes cost between $10,000 and $22,000 each.
- Some costumes weigh up to 35 pounds.
- Each actor has at least two pairs of skates, some have four.
- 75 pairs of skates in total.
- Each pair of skates is completely overhauled after each performance.
- The sequins on some costumes are attached with a soldering iron.
Chicago Tribune, February 1990 - By Daryl H. Miller, Los Angeles Daily News.
LOS ANGELES — Andrew Lloyd Webber`s musicals are often criticized for being full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. He writes driving, pop-flavored scores, and he works with some of the world`s top stage designers to create visual spectacles. Yet his music can be incredibly trite at times, and his stories are often weak.
Such is the case with ``Starlight Express,`` a touring production of which is visiting the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. This musical fantasy about trains derails more often than it stays on track, and it doesn`t build up steam until the very end of its journey. Lloyd Webber`s gimmick is that the trains are depicted by performers on roller skates. They zip around a set that is designed with ramps and bowls on and the effect is stunning.
The touring set has been reconceived from the monstrosity that John Napier designed for London and Broadway. The North American touring production is touted as the biggest and, at $5 million, the most expensive tour of a Broadway musical ever mounted. It travels the continent with an immense set and other properties, as well as a cast, orchestra and crew of 77. This set looks like a rock-concert stage, complete with lasers, fiber optics and lights that move and change colors.
The design is appropriate in an unfortunate way, since the show feels more like a concert than a piece of musical theater.
``Starlight Express`` is structured as a boy`s dream about his toy train set. The heard but unseen boy envisions an international train competition that ultimately becomes a contest between an oily, bullying diesel called Greaseball (portrayed by Ron DeVito), a high-tech electric named Electra (Eric Clausell) and an outdated but dependable steam engine called Rusty (Sean McDermott).
Arlene Phillips` direction and choreography are frequently intriguing. The performers execute moves such as spins, splits and cartwheels on their roller skates, which are quite amazing. Yet the spectacle wears thin because the story and music don`t hold one`s attention.
Editorial - 'Starlight Express' On The Road: A Mega-musical
May 27, 1990 By Thomas O'Connor, Orange County (Calif.) Register
Some things grow bigger than their makers. Frankenstein's monster, for instance. The Trump divorce wars. Or Starlight Express.
"People have said that Starlight Express was a mistake. That's valid," composer Andrew Lloyd Webber told an interviewer in London recently. "Let's say it's my least favorite show."
So who needs him? He only wrote the music. Let the British tunesmith sniff all the way to the bank.
From its 1984 London debut, Starlight Express has grown like topsy. What began as a modest, child's-eye evocation of choo-choo trains has become a high-tech theatrical extravaganza of unprecedented dimensions, a show that asserts its claim to fame on the strength of sheer bulk and gee-whiz expense.
The musical straps roller skates on 24 gaudily costumed performers and sends them whooshing around the stage and over the audience, via a 44-foot skating ramp. The story, about a whimsical cross-country train race, is a cartoon-scale child's fantasy, told in Richard Stilgoe's lyrics.
If Starlight Express lacks even its own creator's respect, the touring show (which opens at Carr Performing Arts Centre in Orlando Tuesday) can instead claim: - At $5 million to assemble, it is the most costly touring production of a musical in American theater history.
- At 50 tons of sets, lighting equipment and costumes, it is the heftiest show ever to take to the road.
- A cast of 24 and a touring entourage totaling 76, including a roller-skating coach (who doubles as a stage manager).
- A 50,000-pound aluminum lighting truss, 7,000 sheets of plywood, 22 miles of fiber optics, 800 lights, 75 pairs of skates, 30 wireless microphones, two laser beams and one portable computer for the production overseer to keep track of everything and everyone else.
- The first press kit in theater history to enclose a three-page history of roller skating (it credits creation of the first pair of roller skates, in 1760, to one Joseph Merlin, a Belgian inventor who promptly crashed himself through an expensive plate-glass mirror).
"It's very similar to a rock show," the tour's production stage manager, Randall Whitescarver, said.
He wasn't just referring to the 36-speaker electronic amplification system Starlight totes, or to the laser effects and 50 computer-controlled Vari-Lites, equipment said to offer a choice of 1,400 different colors in a myriad of shapes and intensities.
"It takes 10 trucks to carry all of this from city to city," Whitescarver said. "Now on a lot of rock shows I used to do, eight trucks would be a big show. I did the Kiss tour in 1979, at the height of their popularity. That was an eight-truck show. Despite its girth, the current 26-city national tour is a smaller, gentler Starlight Express than the production that ran 22 months on Broadway in New York, winning a Tony Award for John Napier's costumes."
In New York, Whitescarver said, "We had massive, three-story-high sets, and a lot of moving bridges that gave us the space to do the races." The tri-level bridges, suspended from the roof of the Gershwin Theatre and weighing up to 16 tons, extended above part of the orchestra seating area, providing tracks for the roller-skate trains to "race" above spectators on the ground floor.
The bridges' sheer bulk made it prohibitive to duplicate them for a touring production, where portability is at a premium. Every additional hour spent loading a show into and out of each theater tacks on thousands of dollars in labor costs.
"The solution was to put the races on film," Whitescarver said. "We start them live, then cut to film, then come back and finish it live. Film gave us the opportunity to do some stunts you could never do onstage. You can't ask an actor to take a 9-foot fall every night."
Together, the four racing segments make up only about five minutes of the show. According to Whitescarver, who has worked on Starlight Express for more than three years in New York, Germany and briefly in Japan, "The thing this version lacks is having a huge set that goes out and surrounds the audience. But what we gain is that the story and characters are not dwarfed by a monster set. The storyline is clearer."
"It's a cleaner version, and you're closer to it. There's still a 44-foot ramp that comes into the audience, so we get out there a little bit."
Even with its scaled-down dimensions, the Starlight Express tour has strained some of the theaters it has visited since November, particularly older sites that can pose problems of access.
In January, installing the show in Seattle's downtown Paramount Theatre took more than 25 hours, twice the time required at the next stop, Vancouver.
"It was a nightmare in Seattle. We had to come down this great, long ramp to get into the theater. So I had to bring in each piece as it fits into the puzzle, instead of bringing in the puzzle and sort of laying it out and putting it together. You have to unpack on the streets."
Review - "Starlight Express" Clobbers You
May 30, 1990 - By Elizabeth Maupin, Sentinel Theater Critic
You can look at Starlight Express one of two ways.
You can look at this Andrew Lloyd Webber musical as a little boy's dream, blown up into Technicolor and throbbing with sound. Or you can look at it as a show suffering from testosterone poisoning - a show afflicted with too many male hormones, rocketing wildly, relentlessly out of control. How else to explain the noise, the commotion, the incessant concern with who wins a silly race?
That the race is run by railroad trains impersonated by performers on roller skates makes Starlight Express a little more interesting and a lot more bizarre. It's a case of a cute little idea run outlandishly and monstrously amok.
In the scaled-down touring production that opened Tuesday night as the Orlando Broadway Series season finale, Starlight Express accomplishes what the New York and London productions also managed to do - to entrance those looking to be thrilled by sound, light and spectacle, and to pique, perplex and annoy almost everyone else.
Your interest in Starlight is likely to depend on how much you want this show to resemble a real play - a creation with character and plot. And your fascination with Starlight is apt to rest on how contented you are with such lyrics (by Richard Stilgoe) as Woo woo, nobody can do it like a steam train and Freight is great.
But, in Starlight, lyrics and music never matter as much as spectacle - set, sound, costumes, lights that grab theatergoers and beat them mercilessly over the head.
The touring production still does that, although one small track circling the front of the theater replaces Broadway's two larger ones and each race's crucial moments are seen only (and ineffectively) on film. The sound (if not the music) still bowls you over, the colored lights still blind you, and the costumes still look like they came from a heavy-metal comic book. (One helmeted train appears to have a miniature Airstream trailer on his head.)
Director/choreographer Arlene Phillips' cast members do well enough with all this: They're mildly appealing, although hardly a one has the charisma to shine. Dawn Marie Church rises above the rest as Dinah, a dining car with a funny country-western number called U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D. Everyone else is fine, although the voice of the narrator - a woman playing a little boy - is grating more often than not.
But the cast is not what Starlight is all about; neither is the plot, which lets the male cars do the racing and leaves the women around to snivel. Starlight Express isn't meant for regular theatergoers but for the video generation, who can't sit still for anything else. Little boys who've played too much Nintendo will love it. Those with unexercised trigger fingers may want to race on by.