Starlight Express * *
at Alexandra Theatre
Review by Sarah Probert
The key to good musical theatre is the music. Whether it is the strong ballad which leaves the audience weeping into handkerchiefs or those which spark a momentary gyration of the hips and a few handclaps, the musical at its best is one which is guaranteed to get you singing on the way out of the theatre.
Starlight Express, unfortunately, is not one of these musicals. Ask anyone who has seen it to name one song, and you will find blank faces all round.
Apart from the strung-out, seat twitching love songs like, He Whistled At Me and Only He, you have the nauseating, Freight, with such inspiring lyrics as "freight is great" and AC/DC "I'm electric... I can shock you and set you on fire".
So the only way such a musical is going to excite the audience, is by the electrifying skating movements it is most famous for.
When the Andrew Lloyd Webber spectacular came to the West End in the early 1980s its biggest (and perhaps only) appeal was that the entire cast spun around on roller skates.
They would whistle past the audience on a specially built arena, wowing them with spins, leaps and great choreography.
It is difficult, then, to recreate such a spectacle in traditional theatres up and down the country and the Alex was no exception.
While it is wonderful to see the talents of people spinning around on four little wheels, there is a limit to how many times you would like to watch them going around a modest stage in circles.
Apparently, to compensate for the lack of dramatic skating seen in London, there is more of a storyline to this touring adaption.
It is difficult to see how you can have much of a story line when the story is about trains (unless of course you are a Thomas the Tank Engine fanatic – and even then you may find this tedious).
It is quite simple really, there are three main trains – electric, diesel and steam – they race each other and one falls in love. Hardly an epic tear-jerker.
That aside, there are some highlights to the show other than the rip-roaring finale, where the cast get a chance to display the excellent choreography by Arlene Phillips and sing the only decent song in the entire musical.
Kristofer Harding, who plays Rusty, Gemma Atkins (Pearl) and Michael Samuels (Poppa) gave an exceptional vocal performance, and the choreography and costumes were slick.
The real shame was that this strong cast were limited by material which is both dismal and outdated.