Following a series of delays due to technical challenges and its busy creative team, the most expensive Broadway production of the time made its American premiere. The cast included Andrea McArdle, 18-year-old Jane Krakowski in her Broadway debut, and a pre-recorded Braden Danner, who appeared live up the street as Broadway's original Gavroche.
New York Times reviewer Frank Rich deemed it "a confusing jamboree of piercing noise, routine roller-skating, misogyny and Orwellian special effects." New York Magazine's John Simon wrote, "It belongs in a sports arena, exhibition hall, or oversize discotheque; all it can do in a theater is cheapen it."
Despite its scathing notices, Starlight Express went on to play a two-year run, and in the final days of 1988 it set a record for the then-highest-grossing week in Broadway history: $617,022.