Out of a siding
The Broadway production of Starlight Express has finally opened after a long series of postponements. The reason for the delay was obvious with the first view of the extraordinary $2.5 million railway set. Any error in timing could cause as many upsets as a similar mistake on a real railway and that has happened more than once in previews.
This version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical is so different from the London production that it could almost be a new American work. Once more, Lloyd Webber and director Trevor Nunn show their appreciation of the difference between British and American theatrical tastes.
Everything is bigger on Broadway, though not necessarily better, beefed-up with new Lloyd Webber songs and many more complex special effects.
The overall mood is much closer to the wide-eyed child's fantasy that Lloyd Webber originally had in mind. If the show succeeds on Broadway - and advance sales already amount to over $5 million - there are plans for an extensive national tour to try to rival the appeal of the travelling circus and Disneyland.
It is not the spectacular races and sets that I remember most vividly - Hollywood and television can still do those better. Nor is it the Good and Evil fairy exhortations, with even the villains good humoured, that make it seem like The Wiz On Skates. It is the dramatic scenes that depend on nothing but the performer's talent.
Robert Torti, as the reigning diesel champion, for example, does an amusing macho act as if he is playing Stanley Kowalski in A Locomotive Named Desire. It is not his fault that inevitably his mere skating ability becomes far more important than his acting or singing. So it is with all the cast. Can it be long before this kind of musical dispenses with actors altogether?
W. J. Weatherby