'Starlight Express' Underdog Competes Against Stronger, Faster Competition
When you walk into the showroom at the Las Vegas Hilton and look around at the ramps, stage and scenery, it is the first clue that you are in for a different and exciting experience.
And you are. It is the hit Broadway show "Starlight Express", the high-energy, high-tech musical that has rolled its way into Las Vegas and is a smash hit.
The 90-minute, high-tech musical story created by Andrew Lloyd Webber, involves a mystical, imaginary train race that roars through the Hilton's newly constructed $12 million theater.
The play's premise is based on the children's story The Little Engine That Could. It is performed entirely on roller skates and features some of the most breathtaking skating and roller races to be seen anywhere.
Webber has described the play as the story of the underdog competing against stronger, faster competition. The London production has been playing for nine years and there have been five other productions of "Starlight Express" that have gone on tour.
The male performers are all engines that power the train, while the females are the coach cars. Their story is told through song and skating.
Reva Rice, who portrays Pearl, the observation car who is the newest coach to be added to the little boy's train set, originated the role and is the only performer to have played that part in the United States.
A singer and dancer, Rice was a finalist on the television show "Star Search".
"You have to make it look effortless or the audience becomes uneasy if they think you are going to fall", Rice says when talking about the multi-talented effort it takes to perform in the production.
Rice had never skated before accepting her role in the show, but now whips around the stage as if she was born with wheels on her feet.
Stamina is important, says Rice, an observation shared by two of her costars, Stephen Michael Skeels who plays Rusty, and Rod Weber, who portrays Greaseball.
In his role as Greaseball, Weber is required to skate the fastest. Not necessarily the easiest feat when one considers that Weber is wearing a helmet that weighs about five pounds and a costume including armor that adds an additional 35 pounds to his weight.
According to Weber, timing is important when you are working as intricately with each other as the "Starlight Express" actors do.
"We are not a roller skating show, but a musical. We have wheels on our feet to move around like a train would and for the purpose of mobility", he adds.
Skeels loves his role as the shy, native, steam engine who falls in love with Pearl, who in turn vacillates in her affections between him and Greaseball.
"I think we all have times we don't believe in ourselves. In the case of Rusty, everyone is telling him he is just an out-dated steam engine, but in his heart he knows he can be the best", Skeels says explaining his part.
Skeels says most people who see the lay comment that they would like to return because there is so much going.
By Penny Levin, May 1994, Showbiz