Andrew Lloyd Webber's roller-skating musical, Starlight Express, an 18-year phenomenon in London that also played two years on Broadway and toured nationally in the U.S., will be even more bizarre in a new 2003 tour that uses 3-D film sequences to enhance the experience.
Troika Entertainment is sending the train-themed family show — which has actors on rollers skates playing steam, electric and diesel locomotives and attached railcars — on a 60-week national tour that will tryout at the Grand Casino in Biloxi, MS, April 1 before having its official opening in Houston.
Randy Buck, chief operating officer of Troika, told Playbill On-Line the narrative will include pre-filmed 3-D racing sequences in which the characters are seen speeding, crashing and aiming toward the finish line in the musical fantasy. The audience will be wearing 3-D glasses for the film sections.
"We're going to take the show one step further...[and] make the races happen exclusively on film, a play within a play," Buck explained. He said the love story and the score are solid, but "where the productions have historically laid an egg are in the races, [which look like] roller derby with people elbowing each other." The new 3-D sequences will move the show forward and expand the action beyond the confines of the proscenium without literally breaking the fourth wall.
The rehearsal period will be about 12 weeks, Buck said, beginning in January. "First we have to teach everyone how to skate," he said. "We hire singers, dancers and actors and we teach them." Arlene Phillips (Saturday Night Fever) will direct and choreograph; she choreographed the original under director Trevor Nunn.
As of Aug. 1, the planned production is non-Equity, Buck said, adding, "We never rule anything out, and we have been negotiating with Equity over several years on a lot things." The show will go to primary and secondary markets, which have not been announced yet, although Biloxi, Houston and Minneapolis have been made public. Starlight Express plays the Minneapolis Orpheum July 2003.
The all-new physical production is designed by the original London production's John Napier (Cats), who is not using a passerelle (ramp into the audience) as he did on Broadway and on tour (necessitating the removal of seats and sometimes resulting in actors wheeling and tumbling into the crowd).
Troika produced a Las Vegas production of the show and is retaining the $1 million costumes for the upcoming tour. The Equity Vegas staging at the Hilton started in 1992 and ran four years.
A staging is still playing in Germany. The popular London production opened in 1984 and ran an astounding 18 years to jan. 12, 2002. Director Phillips and Troika will pull elements of the original script, the German script and the Vegas script to come up with a hybrid version. The score will remain the same mix of upbeat hyper-pop and pastiche, with songs ranging from proto-hip hop to country to rock 'n' roll to traditional Broadway ballad. Among the characters are Dinah the Dining Car, Buffy the Buffet Car, Ashley the Smoking Car, Greaseball, Electra, Poppa and Rusty, to say nothing of Dustin, Rocky, Prince, Espresso, Canuck, Nintendo and Cezar.
Troika's Buck said the score, with lyrics by Richard Stilgoe and Peter Reeves, will not be tampered with, but he's hopeful that perhaps Lloyd Webber might consent to adding a new song to the show.
The show was first conceived in 1975 as "a sort of Cinderella story which I hoped would become an animated movie," Lloyd Webber said in the past. "The project never got off the ground. Then, in 1983, I wrote it for my children, Imogen and Nicholas, and that version opened on the London stage in March 1984."
Jane Krakowski and Andrea McArdle appeared in the Broadway staging, as did Joey McKneely. The show is a fantasy about a boy's train coming alive in his imagination. In 1997, a version of the show was staged on ice, by producer Kenneth Feld.