Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic Starlight Express, one of the West End’s longest running musicals, will be playing at the Marina Bay Sands Grand Theatre from November 13-24 2013.
Starlight Express is a musical telling the tale of a series of trains and carriages along with all their parts, who are personified and played by performers. The story starts with all the engines, coaches/carriages, and freight trucks getting ready for a race, but not without the male-gender engines falling in love with a couple of the female carriages such as the dining carriage, Dinah, and the observation coach, Pearl.
Initially, the race comes down to the new electric engine, Electra, the diesel locomotive, Greaseball, and an old steam engine, Poppa. However, Poppa, old and spent and unable to compete in the final race, seeks another younger steamer, Rusty, to take his place. Rusty however, who has his heart set on Pearl, has no confidence of winning the race.
Strange and unique, especially for its time (it was first performed in 1984), Starlight Express is still different in today’s theatre landscape, because of the its humanization of trains and its parts. However, many of this musical’s elements seem outdated, namely the storyline/theme, the music and lyrics. The storyline and theme are predictable and hence lack excitement, whilst the songs are not catchy melody-wise, and – perhaps it was the sound system at fault or interference from the accompanying loud rock music – most of the lyrics could not be deciphered clearly at all. The singing also sounded wobbly in parts.
It was also unfortunate that despite this being one of the rare musicals on skates, and despite there being a couple of ramps on stage, the performers don’t really do any thrilling stunts or flips and flops usually associated with the skating skill.
One good part of this production is the easy-listening blues numbers sung effortlessly by the engine Poppa in a smooth baritone voice about the blues of being an outdated steam engine.
Also, the finale number is surprisingly entertaining, with the entire ensemble singing and dancing snippets of the core songs from the musical.
With a 30-year-old musical like Starlight Express (as with a 60-year-old play like Mousetrap which played here last month) there is always a worry that shows which were relevant and exciting in their heyday remain in their original mode today, with little or no change, which often means that whilst people still go to watch out of nostalgia and interest, the productions aren’t really as entertaining as they should be in this era.
Then again, maybe that’s the appeal – to watch something old and sentimental, that has somehow stood the test of time, and for that in itself to be the reward.