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Starlight Express – Liverpool Empire

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber

Lyrics: Richard Stilgoe

Additional Lyrics: David Yazbek

Director: Trevor Nunn

Reviewer: Tim Stone

[rating:4.5]

Bill Kenwright’s 2012 touring production of Starlight Express has the potential to win over the even biggest of Andrew Lloyd Webber critics, not only by the complete professional and smooth musical show, but also by the enjoyable and humorous music of Mr Webber.

The storyline has no surprises; Rusty, played by the excellent Kristofer Harding, is a steam train who loses his ‘girl’ Pearl (Amanda Coutts) first to Electra, (the talented Mykal Rand who also choreographed the fantastic roller skating dances) and then Greaseball, amusingly played by Jamie Capewell. Our hero has to overcome his doubts and fears to take part in a race and as all good stories end, come out the winner so that he can reclaim the girl/carriage.

However from the off, the musical is like an express train running with power and enthusiasm; from the energetic song Rolling Stock through to the grand finale it is wall to wall sound, colour and movement. Every cog (and actor) of this show is like a well oiled machine; the roller skating dancing is awesome with some incredible acrobatics, while the singing and music sound (Den Harrison) was clear and the set (John Napier) simple and effective. The stand out part of the backstage production is the spectacular lighting by Nick Richings, which at the dramatic moments enriches the overall effect. To enhance all of this, an effective use of 3D is innovative for the race scenes.

Act one passes quickly; what is so impressive is that what is in reality a difficult piece of working machinery is made to look so simple and effortless. It could easily all be over complicated and look a mess. While Webber appears to have really enjoyed being able to use many genres of music for this show; from what looked similar to Gary Numan and Cars through to Travolta’s rock n roll in Grease. Act two though really catches the imagination of the waking audience and firstly the excellent stand-in Poppa, Gavin Ashbarry, giving an excellent blues number, which is followed by the star of the night, Dinah (Ruthie Stephens) and her U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D. country song. By now the audience have found their own voice and their participation; and in the great tradition of pantomime verbal interactions begin to bounce backwards and forwards between those on and off stage.

Over the years this show has metamorphosised, but it has still managed to keep much of the charm of the era it was created in; however additions such as the three hip hoppers have given the production a modern feel and a new lease of life. A great evening well spent.

Runs until Saturday 28th July 2012.

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