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APOLLO VICTORIA, Starlight Express

Who with any pretensions to calling himself a show business expert would have given any chance to a stage musical about a train race taking place on roller skates, and with not a human being involved?

With the further consideration of ripping out seats to make room for an enormous and complicated three level race track, an outsize movable girder bridge, and TV screens showing the skaters when they are otherwise out of sight? The whole unbelievable structure looping round the entire theatre looking like a Blackpool big dipper.

The rest, as they say, is history. Never mind where else in the rest of the world, this creation of, who else? Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe, with Trevor Nunn as director, has been playing at the Apollo since March, 1984.

But major changes in casting provide a chance to check its progress. It remains more a sight for the eyes than a sound for the ear.

Lon Satton stays on as the old engine, Poppa, and with his celebrated rich, vibrating gospel voice runs away with the singing honours. He is an object lesson in how to deliver a song and grab hold of an audience. This is one train that is "getting there".

Applause, too, for Shezwae Powell as the sleeping car, Belle. Nobody sleeps while her carriage is in bluesy locomotion. And Drue Williams, is an athletic Presley clone with vocal power almost matching his physique.

The young and hyper-energetic cast, some of the key players being Maynard Williams, Bobby Collins, Debbie Wake, Beverley Braybon, and Peter Rees, zip frantically round the loops and dance deliriously.

They are dressed in the brightest of sci-fi style costumes with knee and elbow protectors, and as mere rolling stock brighten up the metalware track superbly.

The music ranges from rock and disco to blues, and there is one country song, Uncoupled (reminiscent of D.I.V.O.R.C.E) which brings the Express to a halt due to audience response.

So much for the credits. What I missed was boy-girl people, a storyline and warmth and heart. The outsize set is large and mechanical, and with those extraterrestrial costumes produce a "1984".

Not, on balance, my kind of show. You come out marvelling at the technical magic, at the energy level, and the mind-blowing novelty of the overall production.

But there isn't a song to carry away to accompany those visual memories of sitting in the middle of a futuristic fairground ride. The show and the trains rattle on all-around yet leave you an observer rather than getting involved.

Isn't it appropriate though that these showbiz engines should be operating only 100 yards from Victoria Station? Maybe the 7.21 from Orpington does have life after all?

James Green


Copyright © 2002 M. Kniestedt. All rights reserved.