Starlight Express
Starlight Auditorium
Troubadour Wembley Park

“As a child’s train set magically comes to life and the engines race to become the fastest in the world, Rusty the steam train has little hope of winning until he is inspired by the legend of the ‘Starlight Express’.

Review by Richard Lambert, 3 Stars

Entering the exciting arena of Starlight Express is quite an experience. The aisles are racing tracks with guidelines and LED strips. The main stage is a skate bowl with ramps and there’s an electric neon sign of the show title across the video wall. It’s very exciting!

With 100’s of show lighting fixtures, video, extensive sound, elevators and a revolve, the staging design is second to none. Added to this are planets of our solar system that descend to immerse the performance space into outer space. And then for extra magic there are 100s of tiny twinkling star clusters that descend to create a kaleidoscopic three-dimensional space all around the arena. Truly magical.

The outstanding feature of the production is undoubtedly the lighting. Howard Hudson and associate Nic Farman have created a truly spectacular arena-style set of lighting effects that just fill this immersive World! The sound system is pretty awesome also (and so much better than my last visit to see Newsies!).

Remembering the 80’s and my love for Starlight Express back along, the music returns and has some great highlights. The story was always a little thin and the rules of the train races are not that clear. “Do they need a carriage or don’t they”? But putting this aside, it’s great all-round entertainment and the audience have a great time.

So with all this going on, why only 3 stars for the production?

Well, it is a large cast and the show relies on singing, skating and performance. With so many making their professional debut and the young age of the cast it does come across in places like a drama school showcase. The singing is not show-stopping. Anything pitchy makes me feel twitchy. Although the group musical numbers are supported by backing vocal on tracks the solo numbers can’t benefit from that support and their vocal skills are rather exposed. Then there’s the skating which I’d best describe as predominantly “two-footed skating skills”. This has sadly reduced a lot of the choreography options to arm-choreography and solo songs “parked and barked” at the audience totally ignoring the additional value of being on roller skates. Relying on an over-used elevator which doesn’t go very high, and a revolve, doesn’t compensate for the lack of rolling of the skates. Surely there could have been at least a couple of competitive roller skaters cast in the show? The 2 guys on manual hand scooters did a couple of flips off the ramp but the same trick done too many times gets a little stale.

Having said that, of course there are stand-out performances. Momma (Jade Marvin) has outstanding vocals and performance and Hydra (Jaydon Vijn) looks the most comfortable on skates and delivers a couple of spins here and there throughout the show.

There are always going to be comparisons to the original. I don’t really understand why Rusty is now a young man instead of an old-timer and I don’t know why Greaseball has been gender-swapped? “Control” is now a young actor which doesn’t really work as the commentary from a child can’t be understood over the volume of the races’ soundscapes. But what I miss most is the mechanical bridge that used to tilt and rotate inter-linking the race tracks – this was incredible with impeccable timing that matched the choreography, and the hiss of the hydraulics as the safety gates were closed to protect the audience from the train tracks. All that has gone.

With many musicals built for particular appeal to young women and girls ( Heathers, Waitress, Frozen, Fantastically Great Women, Six….to name a few) this could have been the one for dads and sons – a genre who are not generally so engaged in theatre. But to do that I do think you need to retain the mechanicals of a large swinging bridge and hydraulic gates and give it the excitement of a fairground ride. Possibly a missed opportunity here although I’m sure regular theatre-goers will fill the auditorium for all the performances anyway.

The production might have the message that the old-style steam has integrity, heart and value and deserves to win but this production has done the exact opposite, done away with the fabulous old replacing with the new, with limited success.

It is a very slick production, different from the usual West End shows, likely to enthral every member of the family regardless of gender or age. With stirring music and exciting races it does have moments of grandeur.

Wembley Park is easy and fast to get to, only a few stops out of Central London on the Metropolitan or Jubilee Line.

Photo credit: Pamela Raith

Further Information

STARLIGHT EXPRESS has music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Richard Stilgoe, is directed by Luke Sheppard, with set designer Tim Hatley, video designer Andrzej Goulding, costume designer Gabriella Slade, lighting designer Howard Hudson, sound designer Gareth Owennew orchestrations by Matthew Brind, Musical Supervision by Matthew Brind & David Wilson,  Musical Direction by Laura Bangay and Casting by Pearson Casting.

STARLIGHT EXPRESS will introduce Jeevan Braich as Rusty, Kayna Montecillo as Pearl, Jade Marvin as Momma McCoy, Al Knott as Greaseball, Eve Humphrey as Dinah and Tom Pigram as Electra.

STARLIGHT EXPRESS casting also includes Ollie Augustin, Charles Butcher, Renz Cardenas, Catherine Cornwall, Jamie Cruttenden, Kelly Downing, Asher Forth, Sam Gallacher, Lucy Glover, Pablo Gómez Jones, Scott Hayward, Lilianna Hendy, Lewis Kidd, Hannah Kiss, Oscar Kong, Emily Martinez, Deearna Mclean, Marianthe Panas, David Peter-Brown, RED, Bethany Rose-Lythgoe, Ashley Rowe, Gary Sheridan, Elly Shaw, Jessica Vaux, Jaydon Vijn, Lara Vina Uzcatia, Sharon Wattis and Ashlyn Weekes. 

With thrilling new choreography by Ashley Nottingham, STARLIGHT EXPRESS also sees the return of Arlene Phillips as creative dramaturg.

The Starlight Auditorium at Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre is a state-of-the-art cultural destination in Wembley Park, London’s most exciting new neighbourhood, only 12 minutes from central London. The venue is a short 5-minute walk from the tube, moments away from iconic Olympic Way. There are great parking options on site and the theatre is easily accessible via the M25 and M1.