Belle's Domain

Starlight Express - UK tour 2004-05

1st November 2004 - First performance

Star-Lite Express.
Reduced calorie version of the classic!

We always knew this production was going to be a little different from everything that went before, and it certainly fulfilled that expectation. It was a very interesting show! Parts are excellent, some parts just need to work themselves in, but there are a few very weak points which hopefully will be re-written soon. However, there's just so little of it! The show was very short, 90 mins plus the interval. Everything that possibly could be has been cut, plus some which was necessary to tell the story.

Set
what a sweet set! Fairly simple in design. The centre stage is the revolve, which has a stationary centre. Downstage is the ramp, maybe 5' wide, with a 9' diameter circle at the end, maybe 30' long in total. There are wing entrances on both sides. There is a symmetrical bowl in four sections, with a semicirclular gallery behind, maybe 3' wide and 5' high. this is edged by a series of arches. Centre of this gallery is a large arch, maybe 7' tall and across. the curved walls behind the gallery and through the arch are dark, with a starfield. The bowl opens into four pieces, and the gallery track raises up in the centre, and mid-way on either side, creating 3 tunnel entrances into the centre. There are also entrances from the wings onto the gallery at both ends.

Before the show started, there was a small screen (approx. 6' x 9'?) hanging centre stage, on which video clips of 'Thomas The Tank Engine' toy railway set were being projected. unfortunately only maybe 2 mins of footage, so became very repetitive. There was a second identical screen, and these were used a little too often during the musical numbers, and very amusingly with pre-race information, statistics on the engines. There was also the big 3D race screen, which effectively filled the proscenium arch of the theatre.

Costumes
The costumes are all in the Broadway style, destinctively different to the London production. This has the unfortunate effect that of all their advertising material, only one character is recognisable onstage, that being Electra.

The Nationals' costumes, being the first onstage, are possibly the worst condition- they are very old, faded and shabby looking. No question these costumes have been handed down one or two too many times! Ruhrgold has lost his hat somewhere down the line. Greaseball was wearing this costume (Drue Williams in the US tour) and Tom Kanavan being a different build to Drue, it fitted him less well.

The new costume designs- well, the "hip Hoppers" have been re-made, their baggy t-shirts are supposed to resemble string vests, being red, yellow or blue with black diamonds printed to give the illusion of emptiness. Their belts are hidden under the tops, with slits in the back to allow others to find their handles. Although I don't think they are any improvement over Rockies, they do look better than the pictures in the US tour brochure. (US tour hip hoppers)

The coaches' costumes have for the most part been re-made, Pearl's bodice is certainly different, although to the same design as the US tour. She has concentric circles of stitching under her bust, maybe to give added support and shaping, maybe to accentuate her bust under stage lighting. Dinah's leotard is slightly wider cut at the front, or maybe it's just the way it fits her, and she has the blue check continuing under the doilies at her bust. Buffy was unchanged from the US tour, but Ashley has now got leggings! As with the hip hoppers, her leggings give the impression of being net by having darker diamonds printed over the flesh tone- gives the vague impression of flesh-tone fishnets over normal dark tights. With the other girls having pale legs, the contrast makes Ashley's legs seem so much longer (which, being played by Amy Field, she does have very long legs anyway). Some of the costumes had that new-lycra look, particularly Electra, Joule and Wrench who were so very shiny.

THE SHOW

Rolling Stock
Firstly, Control (Georgina Hagen) is undeniably Control. Her entire part is almost exactly as Tara Wilkinson's in london, although I find her voice more pleasant. As the show started, the two smaller screens showed graphics of pretty sparkly stars, which faded as the show got underway. Each natonal engine came in by himself, looking quite lonely without the flag-bearers in the london production. As there are only the four nationals, Greaseball's entrance was sooner than before. He came through the centre of the bowl, with ten Gang members plus Trax. Trax came up, took GB's helmet offstage. Rolling Stock has never really altered much from one production to another, but a nice little touch was when normally GB skates around the paddock, leaving the gang circling onstage, he skated the circle in the opposite direction. However, I do have an objection to one phrase- "Rock and rolling on a pair of wheels"? which pair? there's 4 pairs for each actor! During the break, Adam Floyd as Prince of Wales did a backflip, Trax re-appeared to do (A move I don't know the name, involves jumping up and holding the truck in one hand), then left again. The ensemble shrank by two during this section, leaving eight gang and four Nat'ls to finish the song.

Whole Lotta Locomotion
Rusty truly captured the hearts of the audience from his first appearance onstage. James Gillan has a very sweet, vulnerable air about him, and the audience loved him. The Nationals boss him about just as in london, Greaseball having 5 gang at this point behind him. Rusty brings the coaches in from the stage left gallery entrance, so they skate down the bowl. The london-style snippet of "Call Me Rusty" is there, along with the coaches' "Rusty, can't be serious. Him go in for the race?" but rather than lead into Lotta Locomotion, Control interrupts with "Coaches identify", which gives the first truly dreadful moment of the show. The coaches are NOT cheerleaders! the "You go girl! I know girl!" business is really unpleasant. However, the new number "Whole Lotta Locomotion" is actually a good song, and a very long number too. The dance was typical Arlene Phillips- I spotted moves from Girls' Roling Stock (Ashley round-kicking over Buffy), WWRY- One Vision, Radio GAGA, a move or two from Saturday Night Fever. Lovely acting from the coaches too, saw more WWRY influence in that they were very much Teen Queens.

Freight
Freight was as like London as possible- the coaches went down the ramp while the Freight train were using the stage. The only differences were that Control named "Hip Hoppers" not "Box cars", although they still have the lines of "The only time we feel sick inside is when some bum hitches a ride. We wait for a sharp corner to ciome, and open the door, byebye bum!" Now, my knowledge of railroad wagon construction is not that great, but I wasn't aware that hoppers had doors as such, and certainly not that they could carry live persons. Oh well. Caboose was introduced, but only had solo until "None of us may be a genius..." which was all freight. The coaches did the flip on that line, much earlier than where they had it in germany. It's such a scary move to watch, Pearl's wig is inches from her skates! She's going to get it caught, fall on her head, break her neck- all NOT good.

AC/DC
The four components came in through the centre-back, twitching and shuddering most effectively. Wrench introduced herself first, the lack of Krupp was covered by Purse stating "WE ask the questions. I am Purse..." In an odd departure from the london version, Joule introduced herself before Volta. The two screens were showing impressive lightning bolts as they lowered down, then split apart to reveal Electra, levitating, flying down. It was a stunningly impressive entry! Electra's characterisation was a combination of all the opposing styles- elements reminiscent of a drag queen, such attitude, arrogance, the combination of the tough "AC", and the fluid "DC" being so expressive, a move that I'd only seen in london. However, his "I can switch..." was first directed at Pearl, which is in the style of the german choreography. Rather than having the entrire cast, enthralled by Electra, skating around in the star formation, they simply stood on the revolving platform. Gave the impression that the cast are not capable of skating a difficult move. Delightfully, however, the song came to a finish and allowed Electra to aknowledge his applause.

Pumping Iron
"HOLD IT!" from Greaseball, was pitched at the interval of a diesel train horn. A lovely detail. The choreography for "Pumping Iron" had been elaborated, the girls have some fancy footwork while GB's singing. The revolve is put to good use during the floorwork section of the girls' dance, turning them around was effective- thongs from all angles. Lovely background interaction- the hoppers trying to remian "cool" and in character. Amy Field did the back walkover that used to be done by Buffy in london. Dinah danced first with GB, then Ashley, Buffy, Ponents, then finally he lifted Pearl in an almost balletic way. In general, the Bochum choreography not london. Purse and Electra left the stage during the number, tho not together. Again, nice that the number finished properly, to allow Greaseball to receive his applause.

Coda Freight
As Electra came forward for "I'm Electric, taking over" He shot sparks- fireworks mounted in his wrists. SO shiny. so good. The ramp was used for the engines to line up during the Coda of Freight, and Trax made an appearance, holding a checkered flag while the entire cast marched around, then he left again. For the first performance, the final move, where they all weave through each other, went very smoothly.

Crazy
"Crazy" closely resembled the german version at first, but somehow fell flat. The use of the revolve was excessive, having the girls just standing there singing the Do-wops and trying to face forward. It reached a low point when the coaches were miming along to the "Crazy, can you believe him..." we don't need hand signals to understand the lyrics, thanks.

Make Up My Heart
Purse comes in to invite Pearl to race with Electra from the stage-left wing, and left as soon as Pearl dismissed him, not staying to overhear Pearl and Rusty's conversation. The introduction to a quiet song is really not the best time to make noisy set adjustments. Maybe the bowl could have remained where it was until after the song? Having seen Jane Horn perform Pearl as an understudy in London, I was familiar with her performance. She has not yet developed her own character beyond what she learnt in london. Hopefully, this will come with time. She struck Pearl's "pose" very frequently. The set was used to great effect with dry ice spilling from the arch at the centre of the gallery, pouring down the bowl and onto the centre stage.

Race - Heat One
Race Heat 1 was another opportunity for Angus *ahem* I mean, Trax, to come onstage. Unfortunately, for the blader, everything he did was matched by Trax 2, in Quads. The two screens were used to great effect, the left hand one displaying live video feed of each entrant for the race, the right-hand showing race statistics, such as class, weight, speed. Some very amusing quotes in there! Unfortunatley, I personally saw no 3D effect in the filmed races, despite being in a prime position for viewing them. Still, the reactions around me told me I was in the minority with this problem.

Poppa's Blues
Poppa's Blues showed the best use of the two smaller screens. They were displaying images of an old train yard, a flickering neon sign reading "The Boiler House", and graffiti reading "Hip Hoppers". Poppa's Blues is one of the few songs which has, thankfully, never been altered over the years. Dustin's rendition of "Jingle Bells" on mouth-organ was stopped by Poppa. The line "For all the chance I've got, I might as well take Dustin!" has been dropped, no loss there. The images on the screens panned up to a sparkling starry sky as Poppa sang of the Starlight Express, complete with a shooting star to make a wish upon. Poor Rusty looked so terrified as Control announced a late Entry!

Race - Heat Two
I personally found the race 2 graphics very disturbing- seeing Ruhrgold's arm ripped off, Nintendo plunging to his death, a train wreck at the bottom of the gorge. Also the close-up of Dustin's face in the footage shows him clearly looking nothing like Dustin onstage, which is unfortunate. Laughing Stock is such a character building scene, allows everyone to bring out their character. There's always so many places to look, whoever you do watch, you've missed someone else.

Starlight Express
"Starlight Express" was performed so beautifully. It's such a simple, emotional song, the simple stage accentuates the yearning and wistfulness. A lovely bit of staging was that as Rusty held his final note, the back of the bowl opened, Rusty skated backwards off the stage.

~*Interval*~

You still reading?

wow.

The Rap
The Rap was, in my opinion, by far the weakest number in the show. the only melodic instrumentation was the OLC rap theme that was also used for Parade, and underpinned the new Rap as well. Otherwise there was just rhythm. The piece lacked any direction or drive, it had no build up, and although there was a clear structure, it was too short and repetitive to carry it. Stylistically it seemed a mockery of real hiphop. There was no clear plot to the choreography or the lyrics, which were hard to decipher. However, it was performed so well! The cast took the most unpromising material and made it look as good as they possibly could. There were also some nice dance moves, such as a move that involved the entire cast jumping from a crouch. Nothing special about that, until you count the skates, and the perfect landings! I hope that this number, more than anything else in the show, is re-written as soon as possible.

U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D.
Interesting addition to "Uncoupled" of the two screens, (once the projections were sorted out!) showing the kare-oke lyrics for the song. Very amusing but also quite distracting from the live performance. Also meant that the audience's attention was even less on Buffy and Ashley, minimising their roles. Also Girls' Rolling Stock was cut, another big error in my opinion. Purse came in directly after Uncoupled to invite Dinah to race with Electra.

Race - Uphill Final
A warning if you are likely to see this production- do not blink after Uncoupled, or you might well miss out the uphill final race. I'm not sure what did happen. The racers lined up, there were some cartoon graphics, and then "Rusty did it, he caused the Wreck!" I have no idea what happened. Then the scene as of london, Pearl singing "This wasn't how I wanted it..." and Greaseball's gang beat up Rusty, with Flat-top and Caboose watching. Flat-top is sympathetic, Caboose was blank. Why does he not have any involvement in this?

Right Place, Right Time
The scrap yard graphics used for Poppa's Blues are now projected onto the back wall for Right Place, Right Time. This was performed very strongly, with slightly altered choreography from london. Notably, no cartwheels, but a move that involved skating up the bowl and balancing on one hand- very impressive.

Starlight Sequence
The Starlight Sequence is just so beautiful! Not only does the entire backdrop, gallery, bowl, light up with blue star lights, but then a gauze starfield was lowered, and then a second one, giving such a depth of the star effect. Beautiful performance, such an intense, uplifting song- literally! As Rusty realises "I am the Starlight!" he begins to rise until he is hovering about 10' from the stage floor. It's the most wonderful, magical effect, as it's impossible to see how it's done amongst the stars and very directional lighting, and it clears so fast. As soon as the lights come up, after the raptuous applause, there is no sign of any equipment. Dustin's "Pretty Quick- downhill!" is demonstrated by him sliding down the highest point of the bowl, from sitting on the edge.

Race - Downhill Final
As the Downhill final is introduced, Rusty enters through the central tunnel, from the darkness where you can only see his boiler glowing brightly. The set proves its worth yet again as the gallery track becomes three podiums for the racers- the centre stage where the gallery track raises up to allow skaters underneath, and similar on the two side entrances. the bowl split into four to separate each entrance off. One thing was not at all clear in the filmed race- what did happen to Pearl? one second she's being shunted (pushed from behind!) by Rusty, the next second she's gone. As inexplicable as for one second, Rusty's in blades, before being back in his quads.

One Rock'N'Roll Too Many
Without the live races, it's hard to feel excited for the winners. When watching the races skated live, you really share the passion, despite knowing how closely choreographed they are, because the actors have still achieved a remarkable performance. With the filmed races, it all ended with some confusion- indeed, where has Pearl gone? what happened to Greaseball, Electra and Caboose? They come onstage crashed, as everyone else leaves, so "One Rock'n'roll too many" lacks the background interaction what was so very amusing in london. Unlike "Uncoupled", there are no video screens, leaving a very bare stage. Also the number is more static when performed by three, not two. Visually it was lacking, despite the excellent performances. Again, the revolve was used too much.

Next Time You Fall In Love
Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Lovely performance of "Next Time", a straight-forward number, uncomplicated, as was "Light At The End of the Tunnel". Then the cast took their bows, reprised a verse of "Light at the End of the Tunnel", and left, house lights came up. no Megamix, and an incredibly short show!

ok.

Overall Conclusions

"Star-Lite" has so much trimmed out, it hardly hangs together. Who is Caboose, why is he there, what does he do? Why does he claim he's going to wipe out Rusty, and why doesn't he take part in beating up Rusty then? What on earth happened in the uphill final? Why are Ashley and Buffy there, who are they? Electra seemed to have very little connection to his components, they shared very little stage time. The set is very clever, although the revolve and the two screens were over-used. The cast have been given some rather weak material, and have done wonders with it. I'd love to see them given more material- specifically, "There's Me", "Girls' Rolling Stock", and "Wide Smile, High Style". The Rap needs major re-writing to hang together at all. The intro to Whole Lotta Locomotion needs Anglicising. There overall needs to be more show there! And Trax. Why is Trax there? Anything he does in blades, Adam Floyd does in Quads. He comes in for the beginning of the races, he's not in the ensemble. His skating is not impressive enough to warrant cutting Krupp for. He is, I'm afraid, in my opinion, a wasted character. he's the only form of excess in the entire show! He's the side order of fries with your lo-carb fat-free calorie counted extreme diet production.

CAST

Rusty -
James Gillan.
He is totally adorable. Obviously a veteran StExer, his Rusty is sweet, ernest, terrified. He has a perfect rabbit-in-headlights panic. Can't criticise him.
Poppa -
Anton Stephens
What was the last time there was a new Poppa in the whole Starlight world? Anton is a real treasure! Lovely voice, funny, good acting, faultless.
Greaseball-
Tom Kanavan
Another new to Starlight, but he's got the character great. The arrogance, the vanity, the not-very-brightness... a villain, but very lovably so. Now, he just needs a new costume.
Electra -
Mykal Rand
Oh my. SO funny. His expressions, his character! Drag Queen lisp, shudders and shocks from his own electricity, so camp- scary, but it works! Somehow I could see the role being played by Sharon D. Clarke, of We Will Rock You. Electra is a Killer Queen! *edit* Oh! No, I know what I'd change- he could do with a bigger wig. The one he has is very small and flat, he needs something that accentuates his movements.

Pearl -
Jane Horn
Jane's played Pearl in london before, as an understudy, and to be honest, her first performance was very much that of an understudy. She has not yet really taken Pearl as her own character. However, she played her as an easy girl, rather sluttish, which, in that costume, is not hard. She came across as the type of Pearl who considers that taking her best friend's man will hurt her, yes, but it will be fun, so she does it anyway. She played her well, but not appealing.
Dinah -
Tanya Robb
A sweet Dinah, excellent performance for her first night. She should grow into the role well, and will be a very strong Dinah.
Ashley-
Amy Field
Ahh, we do love Amy! So not exactly unbiased here. As ever, she rocked. Definitely saw elements of the Teen Queens from We Will Rock You in the coaches. Amy's such a strong, confident skater and dancer, singer and actor. Despite having virtually nothing to do in the show, she made Ashley's every emotion and reaction clear and readable.
Buffy -
Ashley Hale
Poor girl gets practically nothing to do! But what she does, she does with style. Look forward to seeing her again. She looked good, at least.

Hip Hopper 1 - Johnny Shentall Spot the Celebrity. He managed alright, but his skating tricks were notably weaker than hoppers 2 and 3. Reasonable singing, strong enough. Hip Hoppers could have been a lot worse!
Hip Hopper 2 - Tyman Boatwright I wonder if he knew what his hand gestures mean... I wonder if his directors know what his hand gestures mean. Somehow I doubt it. There is a subtle difference between two vastly different meanings.
Hip Hopper 3 - Craig McDermott As an experienced Rocky, he knew what he was doing, faultless performance. Very strong. I'd much rather have seen him as a proper Rocky again.
Flat-top - Paul Christopher Excellent character, he loved his brick... perfect as Flat-top. Cheeky, confused, bored kid. I think he's just going to get better, too!
Dustin - Gavin Ashbarry I first saw Gavin in Bochum, playing Poppa, and although he has a wonderful voice, his Poppa was quite scary. I couldn't understand why he hadn't been cast as Dustin- for he is Perfect. With a capital P. In fact, he is PERFECT. Couldn't ask for anything more.
Caboose - Grant Murphy Poor Grant, to be cast in such a wonderful role, but to not have that role to play! The few lines he had to perform, he did well, but had no time to establish any real character. Hopefully the directors will see sense, lengthen the show, and restore his two solos. Then we'll really get to see what Grant is made of! And see if he can do the splits.

Trax -
Matt King
Why? Why does this character exist? Don't get me wrong, Matt did everything that was asked of him with style and confidence, but he put his wheels onstage in a couple of scenes, he must have 5 mins stage time in total! I hope he has a supply of very good books backstage.
Trax 2/Brit-
Adam Floyd
Adam is the finest skater I've seen, in any production of Starlight. His speed and confidence glows onstage. It does, however, jar that he's doing his backflips while in the costume of the bumbling, incompetent British train. However, I do see the logic that this character leaves him as Trax 2 - Race Marshall most of the time.
Ruhrgold -
Jake Samuels
Poor Ruhrgold's lost his hat somewhere! A hard role to express much character, but I look forward to seeing him again.
Turnov -
Chris Thatcher
Not much to say about the nationals, he was there, he didn't do anything wrong. Hope to watch him more next time!
Nintendo -
Philippe Reynolds
Bless, first fall of the show, but got up so quickly, and got into his stride in no time.

Purse -
Matthew Boulton
A gorgeous voice! hopefully more characterisation will come through the run. I'm very fussy on my Purses!
Wrench -
Ruthie Stephens
Not much to say, really. None of the components seemed to have bonded to Electra much.
Joule -
Dannielle-Leigh Morris
She had a new costume. It was shiny.
Volta -
Lauren Brooke
She did not have a new costume. It was a bit manky. Maybe she will get a new one in the future?