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Starlight Express – Bristol Hippodrome, Bristol

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber

Lyrics: Richard Stilgoe

Additional Lyrics: David Yazbeck

Direction and Choreography: Arlene Phillips

Reviewer: Richard Loftus

[rating:3]

Starlight ExpressStarlight Express opened at the Apollo Victoria on 27 March 1984 – 29 years later, the production glides on to Bristol Hippodrome’s stage providing A Whole Lotta Locomation for audiences.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express is a musical tale of love and hope in the face of adversity, with extraordinary roller-choreography from Arlene Phillips (Saturday Night Fever, Grease, We Will Rock You).

The show takes as long to get going as it does to find a seat on a morning commuter train, but by the time AC-DC races on to the stage the audience is comfortable in their seats and the show is full steam ahead.

Amanda Coutts presents an overly choreographed Pearl which lacks emotional depth. In Make Up My Heart she failed to imply any inner turmoil as the story in the song was side-lined for a belted out tune and demonstrative actions. There was no angst as she delivered the heart-breaking line “choosing one means letting one go”.

Despite Pearl’s porcelain performance, Kristofer Harding’s charismatic Rusty shone through. His breath-taking rendition of the title song, Starlight Express, was expertly enhanced by the superb lighting design of Nick Richings.

Harding’s performance was so convincing that during Act Two a man in the audience felt obliged to shout encouragement from the stalls for Rusty to win the race and win the girl – what finer tribute can be bestowed upon a performer than the heckles of a captivated audience member caught up in the moment?

A special mention should also go to Ruthie Stephen – her rendition of U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D delicately balanced comedy and tragedy, making Dinah a character that you could laugh and cry with.

3D film is used in the show for the race sequences – a style originally employed in the 2005 production. In the last 8 years the 3D format has become so common, with 3D films and 3D televisions, that it failed to enhance the production. A more innovative staging of the race sequences would have made much finer use of the talented performers skating abilities.

Despite some failings in the portrayal of the love story, the talent of these performers who have to be able to act, sing and dance while on roller skates is astonishing. Their strength and stamina is a performance worth witnessing.

Runs until Saturday 6th April.

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