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05 September 2012


Starlight Express
Bill Kenwright Productions
Cliffs Pavillion, Southend
Wednesday 5th September 2012
Andrew Lloyd Webber seems happy for each production of this musical to be chopped and changed about, with lots of new arrangements and even whole new numbers interspersed through the familiar original score in Bill Kenwright's new tour.  With some faster, heavier beats, the removal of Ashley the smoking carriage and the update of the Rocky trucks to "Hip-Hop"per trucks, the modernisations to the show have been incorporated well.
Many of the recognisable charms remain however, with loud, bright costumes and, of course, roller skates all round.  The most obvious restriction for a touring version of Starlight is always going to be the staging of the races.  The huge scale rebuild of the auditorium in it's London home at the Apollo Victoria was arguably the most memorable part of the show's long West End run, and would be impossible to replicate in receiving venues.  The new tour has thought outside of the box for a solution however, and provides each audience member with a pair of "safety goggles" - 3D glasses to watch pre-recorded films of each race.  These, as well as some small manoeuvrable ramps to allow for some tricks, mean the skating can remain a key feature of the action.
The potential loss of impact from the downscaling of the races has been offset with some impressive technical design.  Pyrotechnics, flying, smoke machines and almost arena sized lighting effects combine to create a technical performance worthy of a stadium venue.  Particularly successful were the crossing white beams during the title song, a relatively simple but beautifully staged moment.
Performances were not upstaged however, with Kristofer Harding as Rusty particularly impressive, a sweet portrayal of Pearl by Amanda Coutts and a well pitched Country characterisation of my favourite, Dinah, by Ruthie Stephens.
The energetic, fast-paced production of this popular show is a great introduction for youngsters to musical theatre, and won't fail to hold their attention throughout.  Perhaps the replacement of "Next Time I Fall In Love" with Alastair Lloyd Webber's forgettable new song will not thrill nostalgic fans, but they cannot fail to be impressed with the production values in this incarnation for 2012. 

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