Starlight Express

Book by Christopher Hampton and Don Black. Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by Richard Stilgoe. Revisions to the show have been made by Don Black (lyrics) and David Yazbeck (music and lyrics). The original London production opened on 27 March 1984 and was directed by Trevor Nunn, with choreography by Arlene Phillips. The production closed on 12 January 2002, running for a total of 7409 performances. The original Broadway production opened on 15 March 1987 and closed on 8 January 1989, running for a total of 761 performances.

Synopsis and Musical Numbers

A nine year old boy playing with his model train set is sent to bed by his mother. As he sleeps, his imagination takes over and the adventure begins…. (OVERTURE). A race is announced and the contenders including entries from all around the globe (ENTRY OF NATIONAL TRAINS). Representing France is Bobo, the power of the Sudest – he has arrogance but some flair. Turnov hails from Mother Russia and Italy has sent Espresso, who is dark and passionate and powers the Rome-to-Milan Express. Rhurgold is the bold and stoic German engine, power of the Inter-Continental Express, while the ingenious and aggressive Nintendo, who powers the powers the Shinkanse Bullet Train, represents the Japanese. Often late but still beloved, The Prince of Wales powers the Royal train and represents Great Britain. The favourite is a deisel train named Greaseball from the USA: he is the hot, flashy power of the Union Pacific. A classic rocker in the vein of Elvis Presley (ROLLING STOCK), Greaseball is attached to the coach, Dinah but he treats her like dirt whenever he thinks he has found someone new and better. He also hangs around with his buddies: Rocky I, II and III (the Box Cars) and Flat Top who know that FREIGHT is great. One train with the odds against him is Rusty, a small shy and naive steam engine who works in the freight yard (CALL ME RUSTY).

Each engine must be teamed with a coach for the race (A LOTTA LOCOMOTION, replaced by A WHOLE LOTTA LOCOMOTION). Some of the finely constructed carriages include: Ashley, the sassy Smoking Car who huffs and puffs around the tracks, enjoys hanging out with her girlfriends and offering advice; Buffy, a sweet and simple buffet car who offers something for everyone; Dinah, a dining car, whose blue plate special is love on the rocks; and Pearl, an observation car who can’t make up her mind and who is the object of Rusty’s affection. Indeed, Rusty has convinced her to ride with him but the other coaches try to get her to change her mind, since he has no chance of winning. His chances look even slimmer after the appearance of Electra, a brand new state-of-the-art electric engine. Looking like an androgynous rock star, Electra is truly an AC/DC character accompanied by his wild entourage. They include Krupp, the armourments truck, Wrench the repair truck, Joule the dynamite truck, Volta the refrigerator car and Purse the money truck.

The race will consist of two heats, and the top two finishers in each one will go on to the final. Rusty asks Pearl to race with him (CRAZY), but she is tempted away by Electra (MAKE UP MY HEART). Rusty doesn’t have a partner, and therefore cannot race in the first heat. Greaseball, racing with Dinah, and Electra, with Pearl, make it through to the final. Rusty visits his father for advice (POPPA’S BLUES). Poppa tells him to use one of the freight trucks as a partner, but Rusty only wants to race with Pearl. Poppa enters the second heat in his place, with freight truck Dusty (the coal car), and wins! The race wears him out though, so he asks Rusty to take his place in the final (LAUGHING STOCK). Rusty wonders whether he is good enough to take part, searching for guidance from the mythical STARLIGHT EXPRESS (a song that exists in two versions).

The odds for who will be the ultimate winner are discussed (THE RAP, which has been revised twice, first as CHECK IT OUT, CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS? and then as IT’S RACE TIME). Greaseball asks Pearl to be his partner for the final, leaving Dinah without an engine (U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D.). She teams up with Electra instead, and Rusty takes another coach, Buffy. The race is forfeited though when Rusty and Greaseball crash. The Rockies are out of the race (RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME) and Greaseball insists it was Rusty’s fault and tries to intimidate him into not racing in the re-match. But Rusty finds some inspiration in the Starlight Express, and vows to make it to the end (I AM THE STARLIGHT). He will race with the freight truck. Dinah is disappointed with Electra, who is now racing with Buffy. During the race, Pearl is distracted by Rusty, which makes Greaseball so angry that he disengages from her, and she nearly jumps the tracks. Rusty is able to save her. Greaseball and Electra crash (ONE ROCK ‘N’ ROLL TOO MANY), and Rusty wins the race. But he is more concerned with finding Pearl, who has finally realized that she loves Rusty (ONLY HE/ONLY YOU, which were replaced by NEXT TIME YOU FALL IN LOVE). It’s a happy ending for them both, as well as for the reconciled Dinah and Greaseball.

Starlight Express has been revived several times since it’s inception. Other songs which have been heard as part of the score at various times include: HE WHISTLED AT ME (later revised as HE’LL WHISTLE AT ME), THERE’S ME, BELLE THE SLEEPING CAR, CB and NO COMEBACK.

Mini Gallery

Starlight Express Starlight Express Starlight Express Starlight Express

Purchases from

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: 1. Starlight Express Original 1984 London Cast CD. 2. Starlight Express 1987 Studio Cast Recording CD. 3. Starlight Express Original 1991 German Cast CD (Highlights). 4. The New Starlight Express Original 1992 London Cast CD. 5. Starlight Express Vocal Selections.


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