Earlier this week, I got to see the touring production of Starlight Express – The Third Dimension in Bristol.
Having had succesful runs with permenant shows in London, New York, Las Vegas and Bochum (Germany), it was time to see how they’d translate the energy, speed and spectacle of Starlight Express into a touring show at regional theatres.
I’d seen Starlight a couple of times during it’s London West End run, where they were able to do some amazing things to the theater which just weren’t possible for a touring show (it apparently took 6 weeks to build the sets in London, and then 6 months to remove them again at the end of the 17 year run!) and there’s something about hanging 60 odd tonnes of skate-track from the front of the grand circle that gives most theatre managers a heart attack – so I knew from the outset that there would be compromises made on the scale and speed of the show. However, the lower speeds, and relative closeness of the stage meant that all the detail on the amazing costumes was clearly visible.
Now the most impressive part of the original “Starlight Express” shows was the racing – a multi-level track winding around the theater, including a fully mobile bridge weighing over 5 tonnes, which linked sections of the skate runway together – on which the performers hurtled round at speeds of upto 40mph – an aspect of the show which has (for obvious reasons) been completely lost from the touring version – replaced by a series of 3D films, which aren’t very good, and do resort to “3D trickery” of having objects flying out of the screen towards the audience.
Coupled (sorry) with the fact that on the evening I saw the show, most of the lead roles were being played by their understudies (who seemed to lack confidence on their skates, and were always checking to make sure they didn’t roll off the edge of the stage) and the lack of “skate stunts” being performed as a result, just took the shine off what could have been a fine production – despite the necessary and expected compromises of fitting it into the Bristol Hippodrome.
Starlight is a simple story, with little substance, which is made up for by the staging and sheer energy of the show (for some idea of the music, see the Official Website) an energy that just wasn’t quite there this time – those familiar with the London show will notice the difference, this show is apparently based on the US touring production – and the changes in some of the music are noticable (whatever happened to “A Lotta Locomotion” ??) – some of the changes are for the better, including the new treatment of “U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D.” with some funny and clever on-screen graphics upping the pace and getting a few laughs during what was a ballad about the pain of being dumped.
Maybe one-day Starlight will get another permanent home in the UK (maybe something like the permenant show in Germany), so there’s still a light at the end of the tunnel (really, that’s the last one!) for Starlight – however, at the moment, it’s in Germany.