Reviews: Not the first night - Derailment at Victoria? Never
Some artistic endeavours exist beyond criticism - they push themselves, by sheer weight of popular acclaim or scale of spectacle, to heights where psephologists and quantity surveyors dare.
Starlight Express clearly aspires to be one of those. It involves several showstopping numbers, most of which are not musical: the original production cost pounds 2.25 million to stage (and that was in 1984, when pounds 2.25 million pounds was worth something). The set needed 750 gallons of paint and varnish, six miles of timber, two and a half acres of sheet wood and 60 tonnes of steel, and includes 1,500 light bulbs, 1,200 lanterns and 6,000 small lights. The performers have used 25,000 pairs of skate laces, 25,000 skate wheels and 17,500 toe stops, and have reached a top speed of 40 mph. Over seven million people have seen the London production, including Alan Newman, a postman from Kent, who has been 750 times at a cost of around pounds 21,000, and the Pearton family, who have come every week for the last four years.
Faced with such an overwhelming endorsement of the show's populist credentials, criticism seems beside the point. As a matter of purely theoretical interest, we might as well be clear that, judged by conventional critical standards, Starlight Express is not great drama. The plot, involving a fantasy race between railway trains, is only vestigially coherent, the characterisation null, the music derivative, the lyrics (by Richard Stilgoe) often vacuous - "Gotta be in the fame if you're gonna win the game," the trains sing.
Even on the level it aspires to, as pure spectacle, it is flawed. Although the original production team (director Trevor Nunn, choreographer Arlene Phillips, designer John Napier) came together to substantially rework the production four years ago, its fetishistic leather-and-studs costumes and Hot Gossip dancing give it a period charm it was never meant to have. Electra, "train of the future", seems particularly dated with his scarlet- sprouting hair and hints of gender-bending ("I am electric," runs his theme song, conjuring up unwelcome memories of Gary Numan; "AC, DC, it's all the same to me").
The feel-good story-line doesn't induce many noticeably good feelings, either. As Rusty zips along the track that runs through the auditorium shouting "Let's hear it for steam", the cheers have a slightly tinny ring: he doesn't look enough like a steam-engine to inspire nostalgic affection (in fact, James Gillan looks rather like Julian Clary, which takes some oomph out of the romantic sub-plot). The outcome is too predictable to create any real satisfaction; the big emotional numbers - "Starlight Express", "Next Time You Fall in Love" - are hollow simulacra of genuine feeling.
Still, the dancing has verve and precision, and Andrew Lloyd Webber's score is at its best an expertly constructed, tuneful pastiche. Just as there are times when only a Big Mac will do, so there are certain appetites to which we are all prone, that can only satisfied by a show like Starlight Express. You want fancy cooking, go to a restaurant.
Booking to March: Tel 0171-416 6070
Culinary experts in The Netherlands thought it was 'fresh' and 'tasty'
Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance
Actress sees off speculation about her face in an amazing way
Marvel has released first teaser trailer week early after it leaked online
The sound of Goodfellas mafioso Frankie Carbone demanding $250m in “damages” would be chilling enough on film, let alone in real life.
Life & Style blogs
Nokia no more: Microsoft drops once-ubiquitous mobile name – in favour of its Lumia brand
Fake goats’ cheese found in supermarkets
Alternatives to cow’s milk can cause Vitamin D deficiency
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
St Bees in Cumbria is named the best place to raise a family in the UK
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
- 1 Nokia no more: Microsoft drops once-ubiquitous mobile name – in favour of its Lumia brand
- 2 Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery: 'I'm living a fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
- 3 Banksy not arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
- 4 Australian café owner sparks debate after saying 'No' to having unruly children on premises
- 5 Paralysed man Darek Fidyka walks again after treatment by British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis
£250 - £300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT** Our...
£21000 - £31000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: KS2 Teachers - Chelm...
£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ampersand Consulting LLP: SAP ABAP Developer - Rugb...
£80000 - £90000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: Working for an International Mul...