When you think of animated series or features Thomas the Tank Engine, Cinderella, Toy Story and the musical Xanadu, you get a sense of what to expect for Starlight Express.
So yes, musical maestro Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s story of toy train carriages coming to life with distinct personalities, and being represented by human roller skaters isn’t original.
But it stands out because while there’ve been a few musicals featuring animals (The Lion King, Dr Dolittle), there have hardly any with inanimate objects as the focus, unless you count the enchanted furniture in Beauty & the Beast.
Where many guys tend to avoid a night of musical theatre because of the sappy plots, the fact that this whole show happens on wheels, set in a train station and there’s dancing and stunts performed on old school roller skates flying up skate ramps makes it a lot more palatable to the men.
Then there are the bright extravagant costumes designed by award-winning West End costume designer, John Napier and the dazzling lights.
The grandeur of the set, however, couldn’t save the 1984 rock musical’s cliché storyline, despite the fact that it’s one of the longest running West End musicals, and it has been updated with 3D elements to cater to smaller theatres. So thank goodness for the entertaining and talented 28-member cast
When the lights dimmed, the performers started to skillfully skate out one by one, posing as the trains of the country they’re representing in the race. The one that stood out us for us was the Japanese bullet train, named after famous gaming company, Nintendo, and donning costumes like they came out of the Transformers movie.
One of the leads, champion diesel locomotive from America named Greaseball (played by Jamie Capewell), was styled like “The King” of Rock and Roll,with the iconic pompadour.
Capewell personified his character impeccably the moment he appeared on stage with his introduction, “Rolling Stock”. Right from the get-go, Capewell establishes himself as the stud of all the trains with his signature Elvis Presley smile. Cheeky and confident, he made the audience giggle when he said, “Man I’m so beautiful, I’m pumping iron”, before going into the similarly named song.
Next to introduce themselves were the 4 beautiful feminine coaches – Dinah the diner car, Duvay the sleeper car, Buffy the buffet car and Pearl the first class observation car (played by Leanne Garretty), who’s also the love interest of main character, steam train Rusty. Though the ladies hit the mark with their aesthetics, their intro song fell short with moments of strange pitching.
Rusty (played by Kristofer Harding) is a sweet and shy “train-next-door” who’s not as eye-catching as the rest but is always dreaming of joining the race. Betrayed by Pearl who broke her promise to join the race with him, he’s disheartened, but with advice from Poppa to seek the Starlight Express, a God equivalent for trains, Rusty sings “Starlight Express”, one of highlights of the night.
It’s become a norm for each play to have a kooky character. In the case of Starlight Express it’s Electra (played by Mykal Rand), the electric train. Dressed in blue and red with an over-the-top Mohawk and sparkly makeup, he reminds UrbanWire of David Bowie, singing his introduction song “AC/DC”. Electra wowed the audience with his fast spins and turns and how he elegantly ascends in the air when singing. Sadly, the rock music sounded rather disconnected from the lyrics “I can reach up and pluck down the lightning.
Watch the conductor, see the live wire.” Electra’s humorous and fun character really helped liven up the mood. Charming the audience with his diva entics, Electra made the crowd laugh with his diva talk like him saying “I will always be… number 1”, adding a wink at the end.
A tale of love, betrayal and rivalry with a Cinderella-esque twist, the slowly unfolding story revolves around Rusty and the race. It doesn’t help that the love story between Rusty and Pearl was cheesy. This, however, was saved when Control calls for race time, requesting the audience to put on their “safety goggles” (read: 3D glasses) to watch the race. This allowed everyone to see debris and sparks flying towards their faces as each train raced down the tracks.
As with any fairytale, the villains lose the race and end up in a wreck. Electra, Greaseball and CB the Red Caboose looking all torn up singing “One Rock and Roll Too Many”. Naturally, there’s also the happy ending when Rusty saves Pearl and the couple reunites singing “I Do”.
Even the cocky Greaseball sang “S-O-R-R-R-Y” pausing and adding and extra “R” when apologising to Dinah.
Another standout character was Poppa the old retired steam engine, especially when he sang “Light at the End of The Tunnel” in a soulful gospel style. It was uplifting and engaging, eliciting cheers and claps from the audience.
Predictable outcome aside, Starlight Express had what we’d call the perfect ending – a medley of songs sung throughout the show during the curtain call – providing a bittersweet farewell.
Starlight Express ends its run at the Mastercard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands, on 24 Nov, so skate on down for the show if you don’t want to miss out.