Sid Langley gets on the right track with the stars of a new touring version of an old family favourite...
Jane North is a star. Just ask Jessica Hart, aged 6 3/4. A giant stage wink aimed at her as the roller-skating actress hurtled out above the stalls made young Jess's day. Well, her week, actually. And her grandfather was pretty chuffed too.
Young Jess had been curled up like a little platinum blonde spaniel in a big blue armchair while her grandfather (that's me) chatted to Jane before a matinee of Starlight Express at Liverpool Empire Theatre.
It's on its way to Birmingham and we were part of a mini media invasion taking in the revived production to pass judgment for the benefit of potential Midland audiences.
The one-line verdict is go, you'll love it, it's a hugely enjoyable slab of entertainment as long as you turn off any reasoning part of your brain before you go in.
Jane, who plays Pearl, the leading lady, told Jess she thought she'd enjoy the show and mentioned that on stage she wears a long blonde wig (she's a natural brunette) so she might not recognise her.
"But I'll recognise you with your hair," said Jane.
Hence the wink. I'm sure Jane would have waved, but she was hanging on to a fellow skater with both hands at the time.
A pre-show backstage tour courtesy of assistant stage manager Phil Sykes was a real eye-opener. The costumes some of the blokes wear weigh a ton and they are bulky and awkward into the the bargain. And some of the holes in the set the guys have to dart through were a tight squeeze for Jess, let alone some of the show's six-footers.
And they're all hurtling along on wheels as well. There must have been as much choreographic thought given to what goes on offstage as the stuff the paying customers see. That's courtesy of the legendary Arlene Phillips, so you know it's pretty nifty.
The lighting for this new production is one of its best features, and it integrates some complex technology superbly. Although the punters are shoutijng and screaming over the antics of the 23 people on stage, more than 200 are involved in getting it rolling (literally) every night.
It's a terrifric ensemble cast.
Dudley- born Jamie Capewell, who, along with brother Jason is no stranger to audiences in the Midlands, says the show is so technical - and at times so dangerous - that the performers have to bond strongly.
"You are just relying on one another so much out there," he says.
Jane agrees. A product of the famous Sylvia Young Theatre School, and a former Grange Hill child star, she only learned to skate when like all Starlight performers she went through the training given by Michal Fraley who has coached more than 600 actors in the art of roller skating.
The runway that brings the performers out into the auditorium is the only way they can get up enough speed to do pull off some of the high-speed stunts. And the hip hop sections brought the house down.
If our matinee audience is anything to go by, Midlanders are going to have a great time. Jess and I happily screamed and shouted along with everyone.
We found ourselves in the middle of a sea of extremely vocal Scouse schoolgirls and I'm willing to bet Merseyside hasn't heard screams this loud since their grandmothers were getting worked up over a local pop group.
* Starlight Express is at Birmingham Hippodrome from August 10 until September 10. Bookijngs on 0870 730 1234