Starlight Express

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Starlight Express
1987 Japan/Australia tour logo
Music Andrew Lloyd Webber
David Yazbek (additional)
Alistair Lloyd Webber (additional)
Lyrics Richard Stilgoe
Don Black (additional)
David Yazbek (additional)
Nick Coler (additional)
Productions 1984 West End
1987 Broadway
1987 Japan/Australia tour
1988 Bochum, Germany
1989 U.S. Tour
1990 Japan tour
1993 Las Vegas
1997 Mexico
1997 U.S. tour On Ice
2003 U.S Tour
2004 - 2008 UK & Nordic Tour
2009 New Zealand Tour
2012 UK Tour
2013 Johannesburg
2013 Hong Kong
2013 Singapore

Starlight Express is a rock musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber (music), Richard Stilgoe (lyrics) and Arlene Phillips (choreography), with revisions by Don Black (lyrics, 'Next Time You Fall in Love'), David Yazbek (music and lyrics for the second US tour) and Alistair Lloyd Webber & Nick Coler (composer and lyricist respectively, 'I Do' added for the second UK tour). The actors famously perform wearing roller skates. In the story, a child’s train set magically comes to life and the various engines compete to become the “Fastest – engine in the World”! The underdog, Rusty the Steam train, has little chance until he is inspired by the legend of the “Starlight Express” and ultimately defeats his arch-rivals “Greaseball” and ‘Electra before going on to win the hand of the lovely first class coach, Pearl.

It is one of the longest running musicals in West End history with 7,406 performances, but the Broadway production ran for only 761 performances. It is the most popular musical show in Germany where it is shown continuously since 1988. A new production also toured the UK in 2012, produced by Bill Kenwright Productions.[1]


During the 1970s, Lloyd Webber planned a musical adaptation of Rev W. Awdry's Railway Series books, featuring Thomas the Tank Engine. However, Awdry refused to give Lloyd Webber permission to use his characters as he felt that Lloyd Webber wanted 'too much freedom' with Thomas, the other engines, and characters. Following this, Lloyd Webber re-conceived the idea as "a Cinderella story" in which Rusty stands for Cinderella; Greaseball and Electra become the stepsisters; and the Starlight Express is the fairy godmother.

The music is mostly in the realm of disco and pop with a few pastiche songs such as the Country and Western styled "U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D.", love duet "Only You" and the title song, "Starlight Express". In some ways this musical could be seen as more of a return to the style of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, although the latter was more varied in its use of musical styles and influences.[citation needed]

Starlight has seen many stars in its cast, notably Jane Krakowski, Jeffrey Daniel (of the R&B/disco group Shalamar), Andrea McArdle, Ray Shell, Stephanie Lawrence, Frances Ruffelle, John Partridge, Rachel Wooding, Greg Ellis, Martyn Andrews, Reva Rice, Oliver Thornton, Jo Gibb, James Gillan, Danny John-Jules, PP Arnold, Lon Satton, Shezwae Powell and Greg Mowry. The show is a spectacle, featuring live stunts by professional skaters and a large racetrack built around the audience.


The plot revolves around a group of toy railway trains, portrayed by actors on roller-skates, who come to life inside the mind of a small boy. The characters race to become the 'fastest engine in the world', and in the end, the underdog, Rusty, triumphs, winning the race and the heart of a beautiful observation car, Pearl.

Original London production, 1984[edit]

Act One[edit]

The musical opens with the disembodied voice of Control (whom we never see), who is playing with his toy trains, ordering all trains to racing mode. As Control falls asleep, still murmuring his instructions, the Overture gently picks up. The music crescendos with the cast emerging in the half-dark to skate around the track, almost comes to a climax but is rudely interrupted by the opening crashes of "Rolling Stock". Greaseball and his Gang of diesel thugs pour onto the stage to sing their own praises, namely that they are rolling stock and very fast. Greaseball dares anyone to challenge him in a race – "this is my back view, and it's all you'll see".

Rusty, the steam train relegated to the sidings, enters, singing that nobody can do it like a steam train. Greaseball and his Gang intimidate him then leave, leaving him to sing his defiant "Call me Rusty" as he brings on the Coaches, dreaming of racing in the championship races and winning. The lyrics play on the ambiguity of "Rusty" being both an adjective and his name, with the theme of "call me Rusty if you like/call me rusty if you dare".

The Coaches question Rusty's ability to race – he isn't fast enough, he isn't strong enough. Rusty exits, leaving the Coaches to introduce themselves with the song "A Lotta Locomotion". Ashley is a smoking car, who has tried to "kick the habit" but can't, Buffy the buffet car offers snacks that are "hot, and cheap, and quick", Dinah is a dining car who'll cook for you, and provide a willing ear for your problems. Pearl is the "Brand new girl", who has agreed in the past to race with Rusty as his partner, but is now having reservations about his ability.

The posturing Greaseball returns, with the 2nd and 3rd class Sleepers (Joule and Volta in quickchange costumes) in tow. Together with the coaches, they all sing "Pumping Iron", another tribute to diesel's, and Greaseball's, greatness.

Rusty brings on the freight train, which consists of the three boxcar Rockies, Flat Top, Dustin and C.B.. After bickering with the Coaches, they introduce themselves with the song "Freight".

At the end of the number the national representatives of France (Bobo), Italy (Espresso), Germany (Ruhrgold), Russia (Turnov), Japan (Hashamoto) and Great Britain (The City of Milton Keynes) arrive, and line up to take their partners for the first heat, but before they can do anything there is a surprise late entry. The lights going out herald the arrival of Electra, the Electric Train, introduced by his five components- Krupp (an armaments truck), Wrench (a repair truck), Purse (a money truck), Volta (a freezer truck), and Joule (a dynamite truck). Electra is as much of a show-off as Greaseball. He sings his own praises in the song "AC/DC", superficially claiming that he can run on either Alternating Current or Direct Current, but also referring to the fact that he will take either male or female partners.

Now all the engines pair up with their racing partners, ready for the first heat. Electra sends a messenger to woo Pearl by proxy, inviting her to race with him. In her indecision over whom to race with, Pearl leaves Rusty unconnected, then sings him the energetic "He'll Whistle at Me" about the engine of her dreams, who is a steam train who whistles at her. She then goes off to race with Electra.

"Heat One" sees Greaseball and Dinah cheat, bully and force their way ahead of Hashamoto and Espresso, racing with C.B. and Buffy respectively.

Dinah isn't happy about cheating, and says as much to Greaseball. He knocks her to the floor and leaves her there, despite her pleas and apologies. C.B. congratulates the pair on a good race, then, seeing that Dinah is alone, sings her the much acclaimed ballad "There's Me".

Poppa enters to much fanfare from the Rockies to sing the blues. "Poppa's Blues" gives us a little tutorial on singing the blues, then Rusty appears, looking downtrodden. Poppa asks him what's wrong, and discovers that unless he can race with Pearl, Rusty is reluctant to race at all. To persuade him that he can still race and win, that there is still hope, Poppa introduces him to another carriage he can race with – Belle, the sleeping car.

Belle, apparently asleep in a coal bunker, wakes and sings "Belle, the Sleeping Car", the story of her life. She formerly raced with Poppa. Rusty asks her to race with him, and she accepts.

In "Heat Two", Rusty loses to Electra (racing with Pearl) and Weltschaft with Joule. Utterly disheartened, Rusty returns to the junkyard where Poppa entreats him to trust in the Starlight Express. Rusty, however, does not believe in the Starlight Express. To prove his existence, Poppa announces that he is going to race. There's just one problem – all the places for Heat Three are taken. Suddenly, and apparently through divine intervention, Control announces a vacancy – the British train has been scrapped. Taking this as a sign from the Starlight Express, Poppa pairs up with Dustin (the only freight truck who will go with him – Rocky I was partnered to the City of Milton Keynes, and Flat Top refused) and races.

"Heat Three" is barely won by Poppa, with Bobo coming a close second and Turnov taking up the rear. Although he has won, the race nearly kills Poppa – there is no way he can race again in the final. He begs Rusty to take his place. Unsure what to do, and not believing in its existence anyway, Rusty asks the Starlight Express for help with the song "Starlight Express".

Act Two[edit]

The act opens with "The Rap", in which the gang argues over the validity of Rusty's claim to Poppa's place. After all, he has already raced once and been disqualified – but on the other hand, Poppa has the right to name his successor. It is eventually decided that Rusty will race, rather than runner-up Bobo, partnered with C.B. Greaseball, having dumped Dinah, now invites Pearl to switch sides and race with him instead of Electra. Declaring that it's "only fun", Pearl accepts.

Dinah sings about her newly-single state in the country and western style "U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D.". She mourns that she will be the subject of ridicule from the other trains, but all the same, vows that she will never forgive Greaseball, or take him back.

Belle, Buffy and Ashley persuade her to cheer up and try to get her man back in "Rolling Stock: Reprise" by being more active, aggressive and manipulative. Shortly thereafter, Electra invites Dinah to race with him which, in the name of getting Greaseball jealous, she accepts.

C.B. meets with Electra, and reveals his psychotic and destructive nature with the song "C.B.", in which he admits to causing all the major train crashes in recent history. He agrees to fix the race so that Electra wins.

The "Uphill Final" is a dead heat between Electra and Greaseball, with Rusty held back by C.B, who caused him to miss a vital connection and thus the rest of the race. When Pearl discovers this and declares that she's going to the race marshall to tell them, Greaseball turns nasty on her and tells her that if she does that, she'll be disqualified herself. Lamenting that this wasn't how she wanted things to go, she stays quiet. C.B. taunts Rusty that he's no real engine, and never stood a chance in the first place.

Rusty doesn't get long to feel sorry for himself though, as the Rockies descend to tell him that that's just how things are – no matter how talented you are, if you aren't lucky, you'll never win. "Right Place, Right Time" is arguably a complaint about racism – the Rockies and both Steam trains are black, and are therefore at an automatic disadvantage.

Finally hitting rock bottom, Rusty once more begs the Starlight Express to help him, and this time, in the "Starlight Sequence", gets an answer. The Starlight Express appears and says that it will help him win, and that Rusty is, himself, the Starlight Express. Suddenly he has a lot of faith. As the music (the thwarted climax from the overture) dies away, Rusty hears coughing in the background. It is Dustin, the aggregate hopper. Rusty asks Dustin to race with him in the final race, and Dustin readily agrees.

Dinah is fed up with racing. She expects a train to whistle at her, and Electra doesn't, so she disconnects him ("He Whistled at Me" (reprise)). Unperturbed, Electra asks C.B. to race with him instead.

The "Downhill Final" sees Greaseball and Pearl, Electra and C.B. and Rusty and Dustin pitted against each other. Electra and Greaseball are not concentrating on the race, instead they are scrapping amongst themselves. Under cover of the row, Rusty takes the lead, only to lose it again when Greaseball realises that Pearl is holding him back and uncouples her, nearly causing her to crash, with Rusty stopping to rescue her from imminent destruction. But now Greaseball has no partner. The rules of the race state that each engine has to race with a coach. His only option is to try to take C.B. from Electra. The engines fight over him, allowing Rusty and Dustin to take the lead and this time they keep it and Rusty is declared the overall champion. Greaseball, Electra and C.B., meanwhile, veer into a tunnel and crash.

His pride beyond wounded, Electra staggers back onto stage, having somehow separated himself from Greaseball and C.B.- minus his wig – and rages about the unfairness of his losing. After singing the musical tirade, "No Comeback", he disappears from the musical, never to be seen again by the audience.

Greaseball and C.B. – what's left of them after the crash – trundle onto the stage to announce that they have had "One Rock 'n' Roll Too Many". The entire cast (minus Rusty, Pearl, Poppa and Dustin) have a good laugh at them. Poppa who then appears demands that Greaseball take them to where he left Pearl, as Rusty is bound to be there, and he hasn't claimed his title yet.

Meanwhile, Pearl, who had secretly left the race, is alone, and sings the power ballad "Only He". Whilst singing, she realises that it was always Rusty that she should have been with, and worries that it may be too late to repair all the damage she has unwittingly caused, and fearing that she may have caused him to lose the race; Rusty appears and forgives her instantly, and together they sing "Only You".

Then the rest of the cast descend upon them. Buffy and Ashley reflect on how lovely it is when they see romance on the railroad. Greaseball apologises to Dinah, and, forgetting her anger, she follows Rusty's lead, and instantly takes him back.

Poppa then tells Greaseball that he can be converted to steam, saying that he would then be under his own control – at which point Control orders the trains to obey him, and do what they're told. They tell him to shut it.

Poppa and Belle then lead the company in a rousing rendition of "Light at the End of the Tunnel", a gospel-inspired number singing the praises of steam power. The show then finishes with the cast skating round the theatre, greeting the audience, to an orchestral reprise of "Light At The End of the Tunnel".


The Voice-over Characters
  • The Child, the young child in whose dream the story takes place.
  • Mom, the Child's mother.
  • The Starlight Express – The midnight train, a representation of God.
The Engines
  • Rusty, the American steam engine who longs to enter the race and win.
  • Poppa/The Chief, the retired American champion steam engine.
  • Greaseball, the macho American diesel engine and reigning champion.
  • Electra, the English electric engine, nicknamed by Control as "the Engine of the Future".
The Coaches
  • Pearl the Observation Car, the newest 1st class observation coach who instantly catches Rusty's attention and eventually falls in love with him.
  • Dinah the Dining Car, a sweet and lovable Dining car with a Southern accent. Best friend to Pearl.
  • Ashley/Bacha the Smoking Car, laid back and always in search of a cigarette (replaced by Duvay the Sleeper Car in the UK 2012 tour).
  • Buffy/Botana the Buffet Car, smart and sassy, hot and cheap and quick.
  • Belle the Sleeping Car, an ancient but luxurious Pullman sleeping car comparable to the other one from the Southern Belle. The character was eliminated from all productions after Broadway.
  • 2nd and 3rd Class Sleepers, chorus roles played by the performers of Joule and Volta when Pumping Iron came before their entrance in AC/DC, only appeared in London between 1984–1992, and only during "Pumping Iron".
The Freight Trucks
  • Rocky 1, 2, 3, and 4 – the box cars who carry goods and supplies freight. Rocky 4 is only featured in the late 1980s, on Broadway, in Germany and on the Japan/Australia tour. In the US/UK tours and new Bochum production, they have been replaced by the "Hip Hoppers"
  • Flat-Top/Tabicón the Brick Truck – a friend of Rusty who longs to be part of Greaseball's gang.
  • Dustin/Tizne the Big Hopper. Carries aggregate freight. Sweet, shy and sensitive about his weight.
  • CB the Red Caboose – the brake truck. He is a two-faced psychopath who causes disaster wherever he goes. He is a major character in the original plot and remains vital to the German production. However, he was cut from the London production from 1992 onwards and is only a minor character in later revised English language versions.
Electra's Components
  • Krupp 1 and 2, Electra's armaments trucks. Krupp 2 is only featured in the late 1980s, on the Japan/Australia tour.
  • Wrench, Electra's repair truck.
  • Purse, Electra's money truck.
  • Volta, Electra's freezer truck.
  • Joule 1 and 2, Electra's dynamite trucks. Joule 2 is only featured in the late 1980s, on the Japan/Australia tour.
  • Bobo and Coco the TGVs from France. Coco is only featured in the late 1980s, on the Japan/Australia tour.
  • Espresso and Pendelino the Riviera/Rome-to-Milan Express Engines from Italy. Pendelino is only featured in the late 1980s, on the Japan/Australia tour.
  • Ruhrgold/Weltschaft and Flying Hamburger the ICE Engines from Germany. Flying Hamburger is only featured in the late 1980s, on the Japan/Australia tour.
  • Turnov 1 and 2/Turnov/Boris and Vladimir the Trans-Siberian Express Engines from Russia. Turnov 2/Vladimir is only featured in the late 1980s, on the Japan/Australia tour.
  • Hashamoto/Nintendo/Yoshimoto and Yamamoto/Nakamura the Shinkansen Bullet Trains from Japan. Yamamoto is only featured in the late 1980s, on the Japan/Australia tour.
  • The City of Milton Keynes/Prince of Wales, the English Engine from Great Britain.
  • Conan the European Engine, Carioca the Brazilian Engine from São Paulo a Rio de Janeiro and El Pibe the Argentinian Engine. They are only featured on the Spanish tour.
  • Race Marshals (referred to as Trax/stuntskaters from the 2nd US tour onwards and able to perform mesmerising stunts on their rollerblades) – they wield the green and red flags at the beginnings and ends of the races, tow crashed engines off the track and decide on the outcome of the aborted Uphill Final. Their costumes are Gang with fluorescent chequered tabards thrown on top.
  • Derek and Angus – trick skating American matinence diesel engines.They wear Rollerblades rather than quad skates and exist purely to perform stunts, they do not sing nor take part in most of the numbers (replaced by Trax 1 and 2 in the 2nd US tour in 2003, the UK tour in 2012 and the German tour).
  • Greaseball's Gang – a chorus of black-clad diesel engines who do his bidding.
  • Tank, Gook and Lube – Members of Greaseball's gang, who take the spoken lines in Taunting Rusty. Though they still exist, they are no longer named characters.

Musical numbers[edit]

Original London production, 1984[edit]

Revisions in later productions[edit]

In later productions, the following songs have generally been deleted:

  • Call Me Rusty
  • There's Me
  • Belle the Sleeping Car
  • Race: Heat Three
  • Rolling Stock(Reprise)
  • Wide Smile/C.B.
  • No Comeback
  • Only He
  • Only You

In their place, the following new numbers are generally included:

  • Engine of Love – Rusty, Pearl, Dinah, Buffy, Ashley (Act I)
  • Crazy – Rusty, Pearl, Ashley, Dinah and Buffy (Act I)
  • Make Up My Heart – Pearl (Act I)
  • Next Time You Fall In Love – Pearl, Rusty (Act II; unless "Only You" is sung)

There are two versions of the title song: starting with either "When your good-nights have been said" or "When the night is darkest", having different melodies for the verses.

"A Lotta Locomotion" was replaced on the US/UK tours with "A Whole Lotta Locomotion", with lyrics by Yazbek. The original melody belonged to an Andrew Lloyd Webber composed song called 'Goodbye Seattle', sung by Paul Gadd, subsequently convicted for child pornography, hence the replacement. There have also been three different raps:

  • The Rap (Lyrics: Stilgoe) (1984–91)
  • Check It Out, Can You Believe This? (Lyrics: Stilgoe) (1992–2002)
  • It's Race Time! (Lyrics: Yazbek) (2004–present)


Starlight Express features a unique element to the performance in the use of roller skates. The cast are trained for 2–3 months in roller skating before they begin performances, so no prior experience is required. However the demands of the show also often lead to injuries. The level of skating performance is dependent on the production, as the permanent sets give far greater opportunity to skate than the theatre-based tours. The US and UK tours had comparatively little space for the performers to use, and the use of pre-recorded races removed the most demanding physical element of performance.

The show was choreographed by Arlene Phillips, who undertook a daunting task in creating dance routines on roller skates.

Each character has their own set of moves called "tick-overs" which they run through when otherwise idle. These moves express the characterisation, whether it be aggression, vanity or limbering up for action.


West End[edit]

The West End production, directed by Trevor Nunn and choreographed by Arlene Phillips opened on 27 March 1984 at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, where it ran for 7,406 performances, closing on 12 January 2002. Original cast members included Stephanie Lawrence, Frances Ruffelle, Jeff Shankley, Jeffrey Daniel and Ray Shell.Starlight Express had one of the most spectacular stage sets ever created. As well as the steeply-banked central arena, there were swooping race tracks that extended into and around the theatre's auditorium. One of the set's most dramatic elements was the six-tonne steel bridge. During the show's high-speed races, the bridge lifted and tilted to connect the various levels of the set. This means the actors started racing on a track in the stalls and end up in the dress circle.

Plot Revisions[edit]

In November 1992, the London production, christened The New Starlight Express, was re-launched with heavy revisions to the material, partly influenced by the subsequent productions described below. Five songs ("Crazy", "He'll Whistle at Me", "Make Up My Heart", "Next Time You Fall in Love", "The Megamix") were added, 12 songs (the Overture, "Engine of Love", "Call Me Rusty", "Hitching and Switching", "There's Me", "Belle The Sleeping Car", "Heat Three", "Wide Smile", "High Style", "No Comeback", "Only He", "Only You") and two characters ("C.B." and "Belle") were cut.

Belle, having proved incompatible with the shorter 4-race system on Broadway, was cut along with C.B. Cutting C.B. required a near complete overhaul of the plot (though the lighting design didn't change – his spotlight still came up in "Freight" right up to the last performance of the show), as without a clear cut villain, Rusty, Electra and Greaseball had to cause their own problems or be the victims of circumstance to move the story along.

The "Overture" was scrapped, with the "Entry of National Trains" moved to the opening of the show from its former place following "Freight". The energetic, high speed "He Whistled at Me" was reworked into "He'll Whistle at Me" and moved to earlier on in the show. In its original place was the languid ballad "Make Up My Heart" that was first recorded on a 1987 studio recording. "Pumping Iron" was moved to immediately after "AC/DC", shifting the intention from merely boasting to a direct challenge from Greaseball to the newcomer and cutting off the end of the preceding song. This meant that the 2nd and 3rd class Sleepers were no longer seen, as the performers who had filled those roles were now on-stage as the female Components. Rather than winning a heat each, as in the 5-race structure, Greaseball and Electra come first and second in the first heat, securing places in the final for each of them. Rusty now didn't race at all until the final, only reluctantly taking Poppa's place after the title song. Poppa won the second heat with Bobo coming second.

"The Rap" was completely re-written, as the debate – whether or not Rusty should be allowed to race in Poppa's place when he'd already been disqualified – was completely redundant. It became an anthem to how great racing is, rather than an argument. Pearl still switched engines to Electra, leaving Dinah uncoupled. With Belle gone, Ashley and Buffy carried "Rolling Stock (Reprise)" by themselves, allowing them each more vocals. After the Uphill Final, when Dinah uncouples Electra, with no C.B. he partners Buffy instead for the Downhill Final. Rather than being crashed intentionally, Electra and Greaseball crash accidentally at the end of the race. Electra then took C.B.'s place in "One Rock 'n' Roll Too Many", and also took one of Greaseball's spoken lines("You mean I could be converted to steam?" became "D'you think I could be converted to steam?") afterwards to be included in the scene. As a second finale, "The Megamix" was added. It consists of a few phrases from most of the songs in the show, including one that by the end was no longer there – "He'll Whistle at Me" was cut in 1996, but remained represented.

1984 London poster

Starlight Express has had many advertising slogans:

  • The Race Is On...
  • Still Light Years Ahead
  • Power Play
  • Get a Life
  • Energise
  • The Fastest Show on Earth
  • Join the Rush Hour
  • Electrifying
  • Fast Forward
  • Go Off The Rails
  • Out of This World
  • Reach For The Stars
  • X-Treme Entertainment
  • The Final Countdown (January 2002)


The Broadway production opened on 15 March 1987 at the Gershwin Theatre, where it ran for 761 performances.[3] This version featured extensive revisions to the plot and the addition and omission of several musical numbers. "C.B." at this point lost his name and was henceforth known only as "Red Caboose," and rather than racing simply for the accolade "Champion Engine of the World", the trains raced for a prize, the "Silver Dollar" (a trophy in the form of a giant American Silver Dollar coin.)

Due to the proportions of the Gershwin Theatre, the set could not extend into the auditorium as it did in London, but there was a very wide and high stage to fill. So, the race tracks spiralled up and up and around within the proscenium arch. The set was far more decorated than London, with scenes of America and place names giving a sense of location to each part of the track.

The race structure changed from three heats with one winner each in the final, to two heats with two winners each in the final. Rusty didn't race in the heats at all, making Belle (Memphis Belle, as she was renamed) redundant. This made the show considerably shorter and less complex, as there was now one race fewer and no debate over whether or not Rusty should be allowed to race in the final. It also lead to Belle being entirely cut from the show in later productions, as she served no useful purpose.

The "Entry of National Engines" was moved to the beginning of the show, in the place of the overture. The song "Engine of Love" was used when Rusty brought the Coaches in near the beginning of the show. Pearl then went off with him before "A Lotta Locomotion", so that it was sung only by Dinah, Buffy and Ashley. "He Whistled at Me" was replaced with the more sedate ballad "Make Up My Heart." "AC/DC" no longer came to a conclusion, but was interrupted by Greaseball with "Pumping Iron", now a direct challenge to the newcomer. Because Electra had already entered with his entourage, the second and third class Sleepers no longer existed. Joule, Volta and Wrench now joined "Pumping Iron" in their places. "There's Me" became a duet between Caboose and Dinah.

"The Rap" was completely re-written as the original, mainly concerning Rusty's predicament, was irrelevant. For the "Downhill Final", Rusty appeared in a new costume as the Starlight Express. None of the other characters recognised him. After the race, Caboose stole the Silver Dollar. The company accuse Rusty of having stolen it, and he consents to being searched if the opposition have to do likewise. This led to a lengthy slapstick chase ("The Chase"), at the conclusion of which was Caboose crashing into Greaseball and Electra. "No Comeback" was cut. The disguised Rusty idea was scrapped during the Broadway run and reverted to Rusty entering the Final as himself, and "The Chase" being cut completely. Greaseball, Caboose, & Electra then sang "One Rock 'n' Roll Too Many", rearranged with choreography that was more slapstick and less sexual innuendo laden. Pearl sang a brief reprise of "Make Up My Heart" ('It's thanks to you that things worked out all right. I knew it from the start. Now I know I've made up my heart.'), however it was cut early in the preview period. "Only He" was replaced with an expanded "Only You", and the show ended with "Light at the End of the Tunnel."

Australasian tour[edit]

The tour ran from 15 November 1987 to 29 May 1988, a large-scale, "in-the-round" production that toured sports arenas.

Bochum, Germany[edit]

On 12 June 1988, a production opened at a specially built venue, the Starlighthalle (today called Starlight Express Theater) in Bochum, Germany. As of 2013, it is the only permanent production playing, and it is the most popular musical in Germany. It has been seen by more than 14 million people as of March 2012.[4] The show advertises as "Das rasanteste Musical im Universum!" ("The fastest musical in the universe!").

The Starlighthalle was built especially for the production in an extraordinary time of less than one year. Both the special building and record breaking build time were documented in the Guinness Book of Records. The Starlighthalle was specially designed for the show, with large tracks on three levels in a U-like shape with the audience sitting in the middle and around these tracks. On stage the tracks even run over three levels which allows several race combinations. In 2003 a 'Y' shaped track was added to the smallest inner track, the Parkett, dividing it into 3 seating areas and allowing greater flexibility of staging and more tricks for the skaters. A good impression of the Starlighthalle can be seen on the official website [1] from a 360° panorama view and lots of high resolution pictures from the show, featuring the current cast.

In March 2008, Starlight Express ran a talent competition with German Television to find the next Rusty and Pearl. The show started on 31 March and was called 'Musical Showstar 2008'. The competition was won by Kevin Köhler and Anna-Maria Schmidt. Schmidt dropped out of training, but Köhler premiered as Rusty on 1 August 2008.

Plot Revisions[edit]

The Bochum production, while a descendant of Broadway, reverted quite a lot to London, including some of the later London changes. The Broadway race structure remained, but in the interests of nationalism, Weltschaft (soon renamed Ruhrgold) the German engine was swapped with Bobo the French engine, so that he was in the final race. Belle was entirely removed, having been proved incompatible with the four-race structure on Broadway. They began with four Rockies, but soon reverted to three. Rocky IV can now be seen in the foyer, along with Weltschaft, cast in bronze. The production remained mostly unaltered artistically until recent years.

Originally, the opening overture and skate round remained from London, but the running order bore more relation to Broadway. The Broadway song "Engine of Love", translated to "Liebesexpress", introduced Rusty and the Coaches rather than "Call Me Rusty". "Ne Lok mit Locomotion" ("A Lotta Locomotion") remains in the style of the Original London, with all four coaches singing. "Pumping Iron" comes after "AC/DC", as a direct challenge from the current champion to the newcomer. "Hilf Mir Verstehen" ("Make Up My Heart"), as Broadway, followed, with Pearl eventually opting for Electra.

In 2003, the late London song "Crazy" was put into the show between "Pumping Iron" and "Hilf Mir Verstehen", with "Liebesexpress" ("Engine of Love"), which fulfills much the same purpose, greatly shortened. At the same time "Allein im Licht der Sterne" ("Next time you fall in love") replaced "Du Allein" ("Only You"). The Late London style "Megamix" was added to the end of the show, though the excerpts from the show's songs are not in the same order.

October 2006 saw the assimilation of the second US tour Hip Hoppers, replacing the Rockies. In 2007 the Rap was altered again, adding the beginning of the UK Tour version, and pyrotechnical effects can be seen when Electra enters and Greaseball skates at high speed.

In 2008, the "Overture" was replaced by "The Entry of the National Trains" (moved from prior to "AC/DC"). "Engine of Love" was cut completely, with the melody recycled for Pearl's ballad "He'll Whistle at Me", in a new German translation. To replace "Engine of Love", the shortened version of "Call Me Rusty" has been introduced. "There's Me" has been cut. "Next Time You Fall In Love" (Allein im Licht der Sterne) was removed from the show, seeing the return of "Only You" (formerly "Du Allein", which has since been re-translated to "Nur Mit Ihm"). The title song has been reworked to "When your goodnights have been said" version. "The Rap" is now the "It's Race Time" version. The final duet between Rusty and Pearl has been re-worked to the UK tour version of "Only He". In 2013, "Only He" (Nur mit ihm) was replaced by "I Do" (Für immer), a new song written for the UK tour by Lloyd Webber's son Alistair.

Japanese tour[edit]

Starlight Express returned to Japan from 24 March – 18 July 1990 in a revival of the 1987–1988 production due to popular demand.

US Tour[edit]

The first US Tour, a downscaled production directly descended from Broadway, ran in the U.S. and Canada from November 1989 – 12 April 1991. Rather than scaling the show up to fill stadiums, the set was small enough to fit regular regional theatres. The races were mostly on film, with the racers zooming out to circle the stage from behind the screen occasionally. The tour was a direct development from the Broadway production, inheriting some of the cast, as well as costumes. The set was obviously very restricted by the necessities of tour, but a small loop of race track extended out into the audience and a start gate/bridge was incorporated into the set design.

Las Vegas[edit]

The Las Vegas production opened on 14 September 1993 in an abridged, 90-minute production without an intermission at the Las Vegas Hilton, where it ran until 30 November 1997. This production was the first legitimate musical theatre permanent production in Las Vegas, and concessions were made in the form of the shortened runtime and betting references in the race sequences. Also partway through the run, the Coaches' costumes were given an unmistakable "Vegas Showgirl" makeover. The Hotel changed ownership in 1997 at which point the new owners decided to end the run before its 5-year contract concluded.

As this production was the direct successor of the US tour, they kept the filmed races from that production. The set was magnificent and complex, with two paddock loops, but without racetracks. They kept the startgate/"bridge" from the U.S tour

The Las Vegas production also brought something to the show that no other production has ever included; the show was set on Christmas Eve. Control is playing with his trains in the opening, until his mother tells him that now that 'your stocking is hung up', he has to be asleep ready for the 'big day tomorrow, Christmas Day'.

Starlight on Ice[edit]

A completely re-designed production by Feld Entertainment's On Ice unit with The Really Useful Co. performed Starlight Express on Ice, touring the United States from September 1997October 1997. This movement-heavy production featured figure- and stunt-skaters miming to a pre-recorded backing while performing complex routines. It failed to find its target audience and folded halfway through the scheduled tour.[5][6]

Expreso Astral[edit]

From October 1997 until April 1998, a Spanish-language production directed and staged by Bobby Love (after Arlene Philips) played at the Teatro Polanco in Mexico City. Many of the character's names were Hispanicized, with Rusty becoming Ferro, Pearl becoming Perla, Poppa becoming El Jefe, etc. Bobo, Espresso and Weltshaft were cut and replaced with Carioca, a Brazilian train, and Pibe, an Argentinian train. A cast recording of this production was made but, owing to complications with the rights, it never was released.

Second US tour[edit]

Following the closure of the London production, Starlight Express: The Third Dimension, a touring production opened in Biloxi, Mississippi. It was a downscaled and shortened version of the show, with further revisions to the material by American composer David Yazbek. Owing to the restrictions of touring theatres, digital video company Inition were commissioned to produce high-definition race footage in 3-D film to replace the live racing.[7] The show ran from 1 April 2003 until 13 June 2004.

UK and Nordic tour 2004 - 2008[edit]

The first UK Tour of Starlight Express opened on 4 November 2004 in Manchester, produced by David Ian Productions. Adapted from the second U.S. tour with some reversions to the "New" London production, including much of David Yazbek's contribution being removed after Andrew Lloyd Webber saw it performed on stage. In November 2007 the production toured Stockholm, Gothenburg, Oslo and Helsinki, using an expanded set designed for use in stadium venues. The last performance was on March 2008, in Plymouth.

The production advertised using the following slogans –

  • You'll Be Steaming If You Miss It
  • The Race Is On
  • Steaming back!

New Zealand Tour, 2009[edit]

Following the end of the UK & Scandinavian tours, the expanded stadium set and properties were shipped to New Zealand to form a new production.[8] Dates in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland have been confirmed for July/August 2009.[9]

  • Wellington : 1–7 July 2009 in the TSB Bank Arena
  • Christchurch: 11–19 July 2009 in the Westpac Arena
  • Auckland: 25 July – 22 August 2009 in the Vector Arena

This production is a sophisticated update of the production first performed in arenas in Scandinavia in late 2007, and features a cast combining previous "Starlighters" from the UK, US and German productions as well as young New Zealand (Kiwi) talent.

Promotional recordings and videos (not for sale) were recorded. The title song "Starlight Express" is sung by Kiwi artist Will Martin, and the romantic duet "Only He" is sung by Martin, and Rebecca Wright played the role of Pearl in this production.

UK Tour 2012[edit]

This production was the second to tour the UK in 2012, produced by Bill Kenwright Productions.[1]

The production started in Wimbledon, London on 10 May, with dates in Liverpool, Aberdeen, Bournemouth, Sunderland and Edinburgh. Production changes include a new song, "I Do", written by the composer's son, Alistair Lloyd-Webber and sung by Rusty and Pearl in place of "Only You" or "Next Time You Fall in Love".

Duvay The Sleeper Car, is introduced as a new female companion car, replacing Ashley The Smoking Car. Duvay is pretty much a straight swap for Ashley, taking Ashley's place in songs and scenes, and also has the same costume (with the only difference being Ashley's chimney headdress being replaced by pillows, which Duvay plumps-up now and then). The revamp of the character is thought to be due to the recent British smoking ban, causing smoking cars to be pretty much redundant these days, the general negative attitude toward smoking and perhaps a sense of it being politically incorrect to glamourise smoking.

The production reuses the race sequences filmed for the first UK tour. Andrew Lloyd Webber watched the production at the Wimbledon Theatre on 12 May. After completing its tour around the UK, it ran from 11 October to 4 November 2013 in Hong Kong, before ending its run in Singapore from 13 November to 24 November 2013.

South Africa[edit]

The original South African production played for a limited engagement at The Mandela at Joburg Theatre, with previews beginning July 2, 2013 and officially opening July 7. The show ran until September 1, 2013. The production was directed by Janice Honeyman and choreographed by Karen Bruce, featuring a brand new all-South African cast. The South African premiere marked the first ever non-replica production of the show.

Hong Kong[edit]

Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, in association with Bill Kenwright Productions, presented the Hong Kong premiere of the show which commenced on October 4, 2013 and scheduled to run until 27 October (extended to 4 November) at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts Lyric Theatre. The production is a transfer of the UK tour, utilizing the same sets and costumes.


The final stop in the UK 2012 tour, the show ran at the Marina Bay Sands resort starting from 13 November and ending on 24 November 2013. Like in Hong Kong, the production was a transfer of the UK tour, using the same sets, props and costumes.

Amateur productions[edit]

The Really Useful Group Ltd. currently licenses the amateur rights to the show to academic groups (secondary schools and universities with a cast under 21 years of age), youth theatre groups (with a cast under 16 years of age) and adult amateur societies (with a cast of all ages.) The licensed acting edition of the show is that of the 2012 UK tour version, including the addition of "I Do" and the full "Starlight Megamix." Highly regarded Libertyville High School performed Starlight Express in November 2015.[10] Libertyville is one of the first high schools in the United States to produce Starlight Express. The production was directed by Christopher Thomas, and was the first to cast Papa as a female, changing the role to "Mama". The cast included Jack Miller as Rusty, Jacklyn Ovassapian as Pearl, and Anna Denoia as Mama.[11]

Notable cast members[edit]



Las Vegas[edit]

Bochum, Germany[edit]

  • Kevin Köhler – (who won the role of Rusty in a German TV talent show, Musical Showstar)
  • Lovette George (Pearl)
  • Abigail Dever (Dinah)
  • Jade Esteban Estrada (Flat-Top)
  • Uwe Kröger (Rusty)
  • Martyn Andrews (Electra)
  • Oliver Thornton (Caboose)
  • Ricky Mujica (Espresso)
  • Michael King (Rocky 1)
  • Allan Edwards Tibbitt (Original Bobo)
  • Frido Ruth (Original Espresso, as well as Assistant Musical Director)
  • Mark Hogarth (Original Flat-Top)
  • Maria Jane Hyde (Original Pearl)
  • Steven Michael Skeels (Original Rusty)
  • Paul Kribbe (Original Greaseball)
  • Eric Clausell (Original Electra)
  • Leesa Osborn (Original Volta)
  • Lez Dwight (Greaseball, Poppa)
  • Mark Anthony (Internationally recognized as premier vocalist The Maxx Mann.
  • Marcel Brauneis (Rusty) - finalist in "Musical Showstar"
  • Georgina Hagen (Dinah)
  • Georgina Hagen (Pearl)
  • Abigail Dever (Dinah)
  • Abigail Dever (Pearl)

South Africa[edit]

  • David Schlachter - (Rusty)
  • Carly Graeme - (Pearl)
  • Bongi Mthombeni - (Poppa McCoy
  • Andrew Webster - (Greaseball)
  • Ferdinand Gernandt - (Electra)
  • Ziyanda Yako - (Dinah)
  • Joanna Abatzoglou - (Duvay)
  • Trudy Fredericks - (Buffy)
  • Weslee Swain Lauder - (Dustin)
  • Zak Hendrikz - (Flat Top)
  • Michael Riff Temba - (Red Caboose)
  • Brandon Lindsay - (Hip Hopper 1)
  • Jarryd Nurden - (Hip Hopper 2)
  • Clint Lesch - (Hip Hopper 3/Crupp)
  • Reg Hart - (Nintendo)
  • Martin Van Heerden - (Turnov)
  • Keaton Ditchfield - (Ruhrgold)
  • Stefan Carstens - (Prince of Wales)
  • Dionne Song - (Volta)
  • Pulane Rampoana - (Joule)
  • Stefania Du Toit - (Wrench)
  • Vanessa Brierley - (Purse)
  • Diani Gernandt - (Mom/Cover)
  • Michelle Lane - (Cover)
  • Nicol Sheraton - (Cover)
  • Xola Willie - (Cover)
  • Jerome Julies - (Cover)

Touring versions[edit]

  • James Gillan (Rusty)
  • Charlotte Avery (Mom and Buffy)
  • Georgina Hagen (Control)
  • Oliver Thornton (Rusty)
  • Adam Ellis (Rusty)
  • Ricky Mujica – (US tour, Japan/Australia tour)
  • Martin K Thomas (Rusty)
  • Bernie Blanks (favoured Rusty)
  • Tim Driesen (u/s Rusty)
  • Bobby Collins (Rusty (Australian Tour)
  • Kristofer Harding (Rusty UK 2012 tour)
  • Jamie Capewell (Greaseball UK 2012 tour)
  • Dennis Courtney (Flattop US Tour 1989-1990)
  • Matt King – Trax/stuntskater (all UK tours, Scandinavian tour, NZ tour, Hong Kong/Singapore tour and Bochum production)


  • Trevor Nunn – (London, Broadway)
  • Arlene Phillips – (Las Vegas, US and UK Tours)
  • Dion McHugh – (Bochum, Japan, Australia, associate director London)
  • Mykal Rand – (UK tour, New Zealand Tour)
  • Bobby Love (Mexico City)
  • Robin Cousins (Starlight on Ice)
  • Janice Honeyman - (South Africa)

Awards and nominations[edit]

Original London production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1984 Laurence Olivier Award Best New Musical Nominated
Best Actor in a Musical Lon Satton Nominated

Original Broadway production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1987 Tony Award Best Musical Nominated
Best Original Score Andrew Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical Robert Torti Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Trevor Nunn Nominated
Best Choreography Arlene Phillips Nominated
Best Costume Design John Napier Won
Best Lighting Design David Hersey Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Musical Nominated
Outstanding Music Andrew Lloyd Webber Nominated
Outstanding Set Design John Napier Won
Outstanding Costume Design Won


Cast Recordings/Albums[edit]


  • Engine of Love/Steaming (1977)
  • I am the Starlight/Starlight Express (1984)
  • AC/DC/The CB Side (1984)
  • Only You/Rolling Stock (1984)
  • Only He (Has the Power to Move Me)/Engine Race (1984)
  • The Race is On (Harold Faltermeyer)/The Race is On (Radio Edit)/The Race is On (Instrumental)/The Race is On (Dub Version) (1987)
  • Er Allein/Ich Bin Wie Ich Bin – Angelika Milster (1988)
  • The Train/Girls’ Rolling Stock (1990)
  • Only You (1992)
  • Next Time You Fall in Love/Make Up My Heart/Mega Mix (1993)
  • Crazy/Starlight Express/Allein Im Licht der Sterne/Mega Mix/Starlight Express (Boy Band Version) (2003)

Various musical numbers from Starlight Express also appear on various Andrew Lloyd Webber and Musical theatre compilation recordings.

Television, film and other media[edit]

Starlight Express has made countless appearances on TV over the past 25 years, notably:

  • Syesha Mercado of American Idol 2008 performed the song "One Rock 'N' Roll Too Many" during the show for Andrew Lloyd Webber week. The same version was also performed by the female Eurovision hopefuls on Andrew Lloyd Webber's talent show Your Country Needs You in January 2009.
  • In the UK, Cilla Black's TV show Moment of Truth (2000) included the London cast of Starlight Express in a family challenge.
  • Matthew Kelly, on his show You Bet!, was challenged to dress up as Electra and perform stunts with the cast.
  • Pop singer Kate Nash released a video including the cast skating round the piano as she played (2007).
  • In 2004, Norwegian State Railways celebrated their 150-year anniversary at Oslo Spektrum Arena in Oslo, Norway. As part of the show, the song "Light at the End of the Tunnel" was performed and at the end of the song a real NSB Class 73 locomotive in full size entered the stage.[12]
  • In Germany, the show Wunsche Werden Wahr, where kids have their wishes granted, involved Starlight Express three times. One girl dressed up as Pearl and performed "Hilf Mir Verstehn". Another dressed as Dinah and went skating with Greaseball. And thirdly, a small girl dressed as Pearl and performed 'Crazy' with the cast.
  • Pebble Mill, a show with British gardener Alan Titchmarsh, involved five songs from the show – 'the Overture', 'Rolling Stock', 'Starlight Express', 'U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D.', and 'Light At The End Of The Tunnel'. Control announced the entry of 'Mr. Alan Titchmarsh' who came in on rollerskates.
  • Car company Ford released a number of commercials with the German cast in 2003. One included a family getting stopped at a train crossing. When the train arrives, it is headed by Rusty with the rest of the cast in tow.
  • In 1992, the cast also made a special appearance at the Royal Variety Performance, performing 'Starlight Express' and "Light At The End Of The Tunnel".
  • Reno 911 made a reference to the show.
  • In 1985, Italian singer-dancer Raffaella Carrà released a video of herself performing a medley from Starlight Express. The medley included "Rolling Stock", "He Whistled at Me", "I Am the Starlight", "Only He", "Baby Iron", "There's Me", "Light at the End of the Tunnel". The video was based on the original London production, starring Raffaella Carrà as Pearl. The backing dancers and singer were all dressed as characters from the show, though none were on rollerskates except the actor playing Rusty. The set mimicked the London setting.
  • Starlight Express has appeared on children's magazine show Blue Peter twice over the last decade. In 2001, the London cast performed "'Pumping Iron" and 'The Megamix'. In the third year of the UK tour, presenter Andy Akinwolere was challenged to perform 'Crazy' as Rusty with the coaches. He wore rollerblades, rather than quadskates.
  • The theme song from the show was mocked on Season 8, Episode 12, titled "Extra-Large Medium", of the popular comedy cartoon show Family Guy as Peter repeated "Starlight Express" while skating in circles by himself Then stopping in the middle of the stage and progressively getting more angry, yet continuing to repeat "Starlight Express" before finally throwing his helmet down and storming off stage.
  • The video game Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies features a celestial train known as the Starflight Express.
  • A show called the Generation game had two couples performing some of the megamix with the cast but instead of them performing it on skates they were just in normal trainers.
  • Lloyd Webber's score has its own pyrotechnics, which require baritones to sing top G, and, most famously, at least for the fixer, a soprano to sing high D in the number called `AC/DC'. Between them vocalists Teresa Revill and Anna De Vere sang this note several thousand times throughout the London production up until its demise in 2002.[13]


  1. ^ a b "mStarlight Express Tours". Retrieved 23 November 2011. 
  2. ^ "Song list". Starlight programme: 12. April 1984. 
  3. ^ Rothstein, Mervyn (20 August 1988). ""Starlight Express" Out of the Tunnel?". NY Times. Retrieved 8 February 2008. 
  4. ^ "12 million". Starlight Express official site. Retrieved 23 April 2008. 
  5. ^ "Feld Entertainment's 'Starlight Express' Fails To Find Niche, Pulled From Road". Amusement Business. October 20, 1997. Retrieved February 8, 2008. 
  6. ^ Zoltak, James (June 30, 1997). "Feld Entertainment launches new ice show.". Amusement Business. Retrieved August 8, 2015. 
  7. ^ "Press Release 2005". Inition Website. Retrieved 29 June 2008. 
  8. ^ "Stetson Group". Stetson Group. Archived from the original on October 12, 2008. Retrieved 5 May 2008. 
  9. ^ "Starlight Express NZ". Retrieved 26 August 2008. 
  10. ^ Paul W. Thompson (9 September 2015). "'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for September 9th, 2015". 
  11. ^ "FPA Casting". 
  12. ^ Starlight Express Oslo Spektrum. 12 July 2007 – via YouTube. 
  13. ^ 'The end of a way of life', article in the Spectator, 19 JANUARY 2002, Page 40, (retrieved 3 February 2015):

External links[edit]