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Review: Starlight Express at Sunderland Empire

I WAS three years old when I first tiptoed into the darkness of a theatre.

Starlight Express at Sunderland Empire

I WAS three years old when I first tiptoed into the darkness of a theatre.

A luminous racetrack snaked under my feet, tiny trains whirred as they journeyed behind my seat and a bridge, glimmering in resplendent silver, hung above the stage.

As the skaters sped through the stalls, Starlight Express had me captivated.

Two decades later I hoped the electricity would return.

Starlight is a spectacle but the sheer scale of the show makes touring seem almost inconceivable.

Even so, Bill Kenwright’s production does a first-class job of overcoming the limitations.

Starlight’s plot is simple – the audience is transported into a child’s imagination where toy trains race to become the fastest engine in the world.

Rusty, a downtrodden steam train, strives to overcome the competition and win the heart of the high-maintenance first-class carriage, Pearl.

But hogging the tracks are two trains that make all the girls swoon ... the reigning champion, Greaseball, and the engine of the future, Electra.

Vocally, Kristofer Harding and Amanda Coutts shine as Rusty and Pearl, with Harding’s solo performance in the title number a stand-out moment.

The whole cast delivers slick dance routines, showing that at least some trains in the UK can run on time.

However, part of the attraction of Starlight is the integration with the audience, so the use of 3D video made me nervous.

But as the trains battle for first place, cogs and sparks fly past your face bringing the action closer than ever before.

The problem with this production comes not from the cast but from the arrangement.

Some of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s original numbers have been scrapped and replaced with dull and forgettable ones, which jar drastically with the rest of the show.

Nevertheless, as a performance, Starlight Express is a unique night at the theatre.

Chad Welch


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