Starlight Express is a rock musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Richard Stilgoe (lyrics), with later revisions by Don Black (lyrics) and David Yazbek (music and lyrics for the 2nd US tour). The story follows a child's dream in which his toy train set comes to life; famously the actors perform wearing roller skates.
Starlight Express is the most popular musical show in Germany.
Lloyd Webber was interested in developing the idea of a musical about trains further, and conceived what he described as "a Cinderella story" in which Rusty stands for Cinderella, and Greaseball and Electra, the stepsisters. The Starlight Express itself fills the role of the fairy godmother.
The musical opens with the disembodied voice of Control (who 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.
At the end of the number the national representatives of France, Italy, Germany, Russia, Japan and Great Britain arrive, and line up to take their partners for the first heat, but before they can do anything there is a surprise late entry. Electra is heralded by his five components, and the fact that all the lights have gone out. He sings 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 who 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.
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, and 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 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 will not be racing. 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 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".
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 she 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 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. 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, and Rusty stops to rescue her. 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 and take C.B. from Electra. The engines fight over him, allowing Rusty to take the lead and this time he keeps it and is the overall champion. Greaseball, Electra and C.B., meanwhile, veer into a tunnel and crash.
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.
Greaseball and C.B. - what's left of them - 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 then 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.
Pearl is alone, and sings the power ballad "Only He". Finally 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.
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 finished with the cast skating round the theatre, greeting the audience, to an orchestral reprise of "Light At The End of the Tunnel".
In their place, the following new numbers are generally included:
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. There have also been three different raps:
The show was choreographed by Arlene Phillips, who undertook a daunting task in creating dancers 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.
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" had been replaced by the languid ballad "Make Up My Heart" some years before, but was first recorded on the 1992 cast 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 onstage 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.
Starlight Express has had many advertising slogans:
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 re-named) 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 engines now raced for a prize, the Silver Dollar, rather than just for the sake of winning.
The "Entry of the National Engines" was put at the beginning of the show, in place of the "Overture". The song "Engine of Love" was created, as now Rusty came on with the Coaches. Pearl then went off with him before "A Lotta Locomotion", so that it was sung only by Dinah, Buffy and Ashley. The highly energetic and challenging "He Whistled at Me" was replaced with the more sedate ballad "Make Up My Heart", changing Pearl's dilemma from 'Is Rusty the train I dream about?' to 'Which engine should I race with, Rusty or Electra?' "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 obviously completely re-written, as the original mainly concerned Rusty's predicament and now that he wasn't in one, 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 (although it was his by rights anyway, since he'd just won), and he consents to being searched if the opposition have to do likewise. This lead to a lengthy slapstick chase, at the conclusion of which was Caboose crashing into Greaseball and Electra. The three of them then sang "One Rock 'n' Roll Too Many", rearranged with choreography that was more slapstick and less sexual innuendo laden. "Only He" was completely scrapped, replaced with an expanded "Only You". AC/DC was Electra's only solo with "No Comeback" cut.
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 two 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 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 31st of March and was called 'Musical Showstar 2008'. The competition was won by Kevin Köhler and Anna-Maria Schmidt. Ms. Schmidt since dropped out of training, however Kevin Köhler premiered as Rusty on 1st August 2008.
The show advertises as "Das rasanteste Musical im Universum!" ("The fastest Musical in the Universe!")
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 patriotism, Weltschaft (soon re-named Ruhrgold) the German engine was swapped with Bobo the French engine, so that he was in the final race. This did lead to the odd staging of Ruhrgold pulling Ashley and Buffy around for "The Rap", as Bobo (paired with Ashley for the race) had before and the tracks had simply swapped. Belle was entirely removed, having been proved incompatible with the four-race structure on Broadway. They began with 4 Rockies, but soon reverted back to 3. 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 Verstehn" ("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 Verstehn", 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 the Rockies were replaced by the rapper Hip Hoppers. 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. The title song has been reworked to "When the night is darkest..." 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".
The production advertised using the following slogans -
Both Rev Awdry, the writer whose Thomas the Tank Engine books were an original inspiration for the musical, and Richard Stilgoe, the musical's lyricist, are known as significant railway enthusiasts, and there are a number of oblique references in the musical