When the high-tech, roller-skating, train fantasy musical "Starlight Express" - with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Richard Stilgoe - opened in London's Apollo Victoria Theater in 1984, it had a run of more than 18 years and 7,406 performances, making it one of the most successful shows ever. The show closed in January 2002.
In its current updated version at the Pantages Theater, "Starlight" has gone through a lot of changes - and the show is still an unabashed knockout: an artful blend of art technology, dazzling sets and costumes, and songs by Webber/Stilgoe, with additional lyrics by David Yazbek, composer and lyricist for "The Full Monty."
For the Apollo Victoria run, award-winning scenic/costume designer John Napier created a set that encircled the audience with a series of onstage drawbridges. We watched as the skating trains raced around us.
At the Pantages, the trains/skaters are morphed from live onstage action to 3-D film projected on a screen that lowers on the stage. Never fear: You are provided with 3-D glasses to watch the races, and the action comes right out into the audience. And the races still work albeit less on a human scale. Credit Julian Napier (son of John) for the train-race 3-D updates.
The "Starlight" story is simple enough, a story line that parallels the classic children's book "The Little Engine That Could." As the show beings, we listen as a 9-year-old boy playing with his train set is sent to bed by his mother. As he dozes off, his imagination takes over, bringing life to an entire society of trains that couple (and uncouple) for the races -- much like human relationships.
Webber/Stilgoe/Yazbek's score includes music of nearly every genre: pop, rock, rap, blues, even country and Western. Standouts (in a large cast of almost two dozen) are Franklyn Warfield (as Rusty, a steam train), Clarissa Grace (as Pearl, an observation car), Drue Williams (as Greaseball, a diesel locomotive), Dustin Dubreuil (as Electra, an electric train), Katie O'Toole (as Dinah, a dining car), Kait L. Holbrook (as Ashley, a smoking car) and Dennis LeGree (as Poppa, another steam train).
Credit Arlene Phillips for the spirited and energetic direction/choreography. Yes, all on skates.