Starlight Express en route to Londonderry

Cast of Starlight Express in action
Cast of Starlight Express in action

ANDREW Lloyd Webber’s futuristic rock musical Starlight Express – a love story between an engine and an observation coach, with an eclectic range of songs and a demanding remit for the cast, who are on roller skates throughout – arrives at the Millennium Forum, Londonderry, February 5.

One of the longest running musicals in West End history, the story of Starlight follows a child’s dream in which his toy train set comes to life.

Discopop and pastiche songs make-up the ecletic set-list – love duet Starlight Express being one of the most memorable among them – as Rusty, a steam train who wants to win the race among his peer group, falls in love with Pearl, a beautiful observation car.

A gang of rolling stock attempt to thwart Rusty’s quest for love, with characters including Greaseball, Belle, Poppa and Dinah all competing to become the ‘fastest engine in the world’.

Renowned choreographer and television judge Arlene Phillips, who choreographed the original West End production in 1984, is back on board here as director and choreographer.

“When Andrew Lloyd Webber first asked me to choreograph Starlight Express I was thrilled to take on the challenge of creating dance on roller skates,” says Arlene.

“Every musical demands that the performers be able to sing, act and dance. In Starlight Express they have to do all of this on roller skates, which requires strength, stamina and grim determination. To build up strength Starlight has a lengthy rehearsal period of skate training, vocal and physical aerobics, choreography on and off skates and racing, all coupled with specialized training to make the performers move like trains.”

She added: “Starlight Express is a complete theatrical experience. It is a love story and a story of triumph, involving spectacle, sportsmanship, rivalry, danger and thrills.”

Roller choreography cannot be easy.

Amanda Coutts, who plays Pearl, revels in the challenges of the role.

“It’s such a demanding, high energy show to perform, but also a lot of fun,” says the Essex-born actress, who has appeared in five runs of the musical, including a large-scale production in Bochum, Germany, featuring purpose-built race tracks for characters to skate around.

“My favourite songs are the solo numbers I sing – Whistle at Me and Make-up My Heart which is a song where I do a lot of my little skating tricks. There’s also a new song in this production which has been written by Alistair Lloyd Webber, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s son; it’s a pretty song sung by Rusty and Pearl which I love.

“Lloyd Webber originally wrote this show for his children.”

Amanda confides that this touring version features many of the racing sequences on a screen, with the audience wearing 3D glasses to get the full effect.

And she adds that Pearl is a higher calibre of racing car.

“Pearl’s a first class carriage,” she laughs. “Rusty fights to win her over and they race together. Pearl isn’t sure if she wants to race with him or with other characters at first, and then she realises she’s wanted to race with Rusty all along.”

n Starlight Express stops at the Millennium Forum, Londonderry, February 5-9, 2013. Call the box office on 02871 264455 or visit