Starlight Express

Vector Arena, Parnell, Auckland

25/07/2009 - 09/08/2009

TSB Arena, Queens Wharf, Wellington

01/07/2009 - 11/07/2009

Production Details

STARLIGHT EXPRESS – The Fastest Show on Earth  

It’s written! New Zealand certainly does have a wealth of world-class talent -participating in Andrew Lloyd Webber musical touring NZ in 2009

It is with immense pleasure that Stewart & Tricia Macpherson with Patrick Connell by arrangement with The Really Useful Group Ltd announce the cast for the premiere New Zealand tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s – STARLIGHT EXPRESS – one of the most successful musicals of all time. Proudly sponsored by ANZ Bank.  

The enchanting story of Starlight Express follows a child’s dream in which his toy train set comes to life; famously the show is unique as the 28 performers are on roller skates.

The cast blends fresh, young, talented kiwis all new to large-scale professional international musicals with experienced Starlighters from previous productions in UK, Germany, USA and Australia – (including UK based Kiwis Aaron Piper and European-based Matthew Cutts who are, or have been, recently performing in the German production of Starlight Express).

Producer Stewart Macpherson said, "We are very excited and proud to introduce exciting, emerging talent – trained by our own world class performing arts institutions in New Zealand – in this – their debut in a fully professional international production of one of the most successful musicals ever written!"

The rigorous Starlight Express auditions were conducted throughout NZ in late 2008 – by the UK Creative Team from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s company – The Really Useful Group Ltd, and the New Zealand Producers, who were left with the daunting task of making the final casting selection to fill the 28 cast plus understudies, for this most physical of musicals. This production has been specifically designed to be staged as an Arena-show indoors at Vector, TSB and Westpac Arenas during July & August 2009!

Mykal Rand, plays Electra (the Electric Train) and is also Resident Director based in the UK. At the conclusion of the auditions in New Zealand he said, "There was an extremely high quality of talent on display in all the major audition centres of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch." In STARLIGHT, as the performers are on roller skates the producers were looking for strength, stamina and determination – however first and foremost performers had to be talented in singing and dancing and although they were not expected to initially perform on roller skates, they had to display the physicality and discipline to enable them to execute complex singing, dancing and skating routines.

The newcomers to the show built up this strength and skill over the 10-week rehearsal period which commenced in April. The Kiwi performers were inducted into ‘Starlight Express skate school’ under the tutelage of Starlight Express’s international skate guru, Michal Fraley, who flew in from Germany to teach. The actors rehearsed all day with their skates on, and were encouraged to keep them on even in their lunch breaks. "The aim is to merge those roller skates into a seamless part of their body" said Fraley. During STARLIGHT’s lengthy rehearsal period the cast partake in skate training, vocal and physical aerobics, dance rehearsals, coupled with specialised training to move and feel like trains.

One more role remained to be filled: that of a specialist and somewhat radical stunt skater. The search was on in New Zealand when Matt King – one of the world’s top, elite, aerial stunt skaters – came to New Zealand in late April. Matt plays the leading ‘extreme sport’ stunt skater in Starlight Express, and conducted the search for his NZ counterpart: Leo Terris.

Composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber said, "Starlight Express started life in 1975 as a sort of Cinderella story which I hoped would be an animated movie. It never got off the ground. Then in 1983 I rewrote it for my children, Imogen and Nicholas, in the version that opened in March 1984 . We are all proud that Starlight not only became the second longest running musical in London theatre history in April 1992, but also has spawned a new generation of theatre-goers who perhaps never considered going to the theatre before and who may have gone on to other (perhaps more conventional!) things."


RUSTY - Jamie Golding
PEARL - Rebecca Wright
POPPA - Lothair Eaton
GREASEBALL - Matthew Cutts
ELECTRA - Mykal Rand
DINAH - Torum Heng
ASHLEY - Sarah Landy
BUFFY - Camilla Hardy
HIP HOPPER 1 - Aaron Piper
HIP HOPPER 2 - Sharn Te Pou
HIP HOPPER 3 - Joel Hewlett
TRAX 1 - Matt King
TRAX 2 - Leo Terris
CABOOSE - Duane McGregor
JOULE - Melanie Firbank
VOLTA - Liv Wakem
WRENCH - Hannah Kee
PURSE - Ben Nichols
NINTENDO - Engine 1 - Clayton Curnow
RUHRGOLD - Engine 2 - Jos Hoetjes
TURNOV - Engine 3 - Olaf John
PRINCE OF WALES - Engine 4  - Robert Enari
FLAT TOP - Jared Pallesen
DUSTIN - Gavin Ashbarry
ELECTRA (Alternate) - Matthew Pike

Claire Stanley
Georgia Bergerson
Lee Lomas
Andrew Millar
Graham Harvey

RUSTY - Duane McGregor (1st), Matthew Pike (2nd)
PEARL - Sarah Landy (1st), Georgia Bergerson (2nd)
POPPA - Gavin Ashbarry (1st), Robert Enari (2nd)
GREASEBALL - Graham Harvey (1st), Matthew Pike (2nd)
ELECTRA - Ben Nicholls (1st)
DINAH - Camilla Hardy (1st), Hannah Kee (2nd)
ENSEMBLE COVERS - Lee Lomas, Andrew Millar, Graham Harvey, Claire Stanley, Georgia Bergerson

Musical Director - Michael Nicholas Williams
Assistant MD/Keyboards - Tim Solly
Keyboards - Mark Dorell
Guitar - Tyson Smith
Bass Guitar - Rory Macartney
Drums - Richard Wise
Alto/Tenor Sax & Flute - Alex Nyman
Trumpet /Fluegel - Lex French
Trombone - Hadyn Godfrey

Resident Director - Mykal Rand
Skate Coach - Andrew Millar
Dance Captain - Lee Lomas
Company Manager - Tricia Macpherson
Stage Manager - Kathryn Osborne
Assistant Stage Manager - Corinne Simpson
Deputy Stage Manager - Miriam Sobey
Skate Technician - Corinne Simpson
Sound No 1 - Paul Jeffrey
Sound No 2 (Operator) - Richard Baker
Sound No 3 - Ricky Gallagher
LX No 1 - Dan Mercer
LX No 2 - Richard Howorth
LX No 3 - Andreas Romanowski
Production Manager - Alistair Cameron
Head Mech - Nick Kyle
Mech No 2 - Tama Liumaihetau
Head of Wardrobe - Paul Smith
Wardrobe Assistant - Campbell Stoddard
Head Dresser - Heidi King
Head of Wigs - Ciaron McCormack
Massage Therapist No 1 - Renee Saul
Massage Therapist No 2 - Stefan Smith 




Spectacularly heart-warming ride hits the right emotional chord

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 27th Jul 2009

The rock critic Lester Bangs used to defend his preference for the trashier end of the pop culture spectrum by arguing that rock musicians who think they are poets usually end up sounding like buffoons while those who know they are buffoons are sometimes capable of great poetry.

The insight is useful when approaching Starlight Express, which is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s second-most popular musical and probably the most critically maligned. [More
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Thrill-a-thon of sound and movement

Review by John Smythe 02nd Jul 2009

What a vivid imagination! After playing with his train set a nine year old boy (unseen, with an American voice*) sleeps and dreams up a roller-skating rolling-stock storm in which he is The Controller. A control-freak train geek no less, but too creative, probably, to don an anorak in later years and spot trains from a trunk line over-bridge.

It’s a Cinderella set-up in essence but – being a boy’s story – it is primarily focused on a race between trains from different nations. The loco-contenders are all male while most of the service cars that hitch up for the ride are female, which is where the love interest comes in. France, Russia, Italy, Germany and Japan are represented. And the British train is late (nice gag).

The reigning champion is Greaseball (NZ-born Matthew Cutts), the Elvis-like rock ‘n’ rollin’ diesel from the USA, whose hanger-on is Dinah (Torum Heng, NZ) the dining car, and he treats her bad. Little old Rusty (Jamie Golding, UK), a steam engine of no fixed abode*, is laughed at for thinking he could win but he feels he has to, to win the affection of Pearl (Rebecca Wright, NZ) the observation car.

But Rusty is no match for Electra (Mykal Rand, UK), the brand new state-of-the-art AC/DC electric loco, whose location nation-wise is also obscure, although his red-white-and-blue plumage could suggest UK, USA or France. Actually at this point what seemed like important questions of nationality pretty well become irrelevant.

In summary: steam (Rusty) is Cinders to the Ugly Sisters diesel (Greaseball) and electricity (Electra) while Pearl is the beautiful Princess and desirable prize. We all know how it is going to end so the plot is contrived to put lots of obstacles in Rusty’s way – and to set up cues for a range of song and choreographed skating routine, of course. Old Poppa (Lothair Eaton, USA), another steam engine, is not so much the fairy godfather as the facilitator for Rusty to draw on the power of the mythical Starlight Express itself to build up a head of self-esteem …

Ever-evolving, this version builds on the revisions of 1992 that radically updated the first London (1984) and Broadway (1987) productions, musically, plot and production-wise. The most obvious change is that instead of the wrap-around auditorium runway, the races are screened as computer-enhanced film sequences (directed by Julian Napier). This brings into question the claim – in Lloyd Webber’s programme note and repeated in a pre-show announcement – that "Everything in Starlight is played and performed live."

Also new are the stunt skaters, Trax 1 (Matt King, UK) and Trax 2 (Leo Terris, NZ), who add to the spectacle by swooping and looping on the scooped ramps that flank John Napier’s thrust stage set design (tip: to fully appreciate the visual effect, avoid the stalls which – as we discovered – are too low to allow a view of the stage surface).

The music, splendidly played by the unseen band (MD: Michael Nicholas Williams, NZ), is mostly disco pop – Rusty’s ‘Starlight Express’ the high point – alleviated by the odd genre piece, like Pearl’s romantic ‘Make Up My Heart’ and her duet with Rusty, ‘Only He’; the company’s ‘It’s Race Time’ rap; Dinah’s country-styled ‘U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D’ and Poppa’s blues jazz-cum-gospel-song ‘Light at the End of the Tunnel’.

The gender politics of Pearl’s ‘Only He’ are a bit of a worry initially – "Only he has the power to move me, take me, hold me, tend me, improve me" – until Rusty reciprocates with "Only she …" Otherwise the lyrics (by Richard Stilgoe; additional lyrics by David Yazbek) delight in child-like rhyming schemes and railway-oriented plays on words.

Strong, true voices carry the songs, marred just a couple of times by words dropping out on low notes at the end of phrases. Everyone grabs their opportunity to add to the spectacular whole in small groups and as an ensemble, making the rhythm and flow that took weeks to rehearse look easy, which is just as it should be.  

John Napier’s costume designs, Howard Eaton’s lighting and Paul Jeffrey’s sound design all enrich the thrill-a-thon of sound and movement, modulated to excellent dramatic effect by director and choreographer Arlene Phillips.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

* Andrew Lloyd Webber is English and so was the Rev W Awdry whose Railway Series books were the first inspiration (that’s where Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group got its name); the original show premiered in London where it ran for 7,406 performances; the Broadway season ran for only 761 performances; in 1988 a permanent production opened in Bochum, Germany, was re-jigged for cultural relevance and is still running … So why make the narrative voice – the boy – American? When did the Brits capitulate to this rampant cultural imperialism? Given the universality of boys loving trains and the international roll-call of trains on stage, the 9 year-old boy and his Controller persona should hail from wherever the production is staged, should he? Likewise, why not make Rusty from the boys own country too? Do not we have railways too? Any dispute?
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Maryanne July 5th, 2009

I saw it on Friday. It was a bittersweet experience - sweet in that it is undoubtedly a spectacular and slick production bulging with talent both on and backstage. Bitter in that the music is pap, the story is...missing, and the gender values are archaic even for the '80's. I can't help but feel that surely Sir Andy and Trevor could have come up with a much better show to throw so much production at. Instead it is like a conjuring trick, so many "look over there!" moments to distract us from the basic lack of content.

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All aboard for the high-octane express

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 02nd Jul 2009

Pulling into the TSB Bank Arena "Station" is one of the most magical and spectacle trains ever to travel through the country.

This production for New Zealand audiences, which travels on to Christchurch and Auckland, is a sophisticated update of the production first performed in arenas throughout Scandinavia in 2007 and features a cast combining previous members from UK, US and German productions as well as young Kiwi talent, all performing on roller skates which has been the hall mark of this show since it first opened in London in 1984.

Loosely based on the Cinderella story, only with trains, the show and its songs have been revamped many times over the years but the main storyline remains the same, being similar in its theatrical concept to Cats in that it features performers in costume representing non-human characters.

And although one can be rather cynical about the saccharine storyline of how an underdog – the steam engine Rusty – comes out on top – purporting to show how love and hope can triumph in the face of adversity – there is no denying that the show has appeal for its sheer energy, creativity and originality.

As a young boy falls asleep his toy train set comes to life including Greaseball (Matthew Cutts), a diesel engine, Electra (Mykal Rand), an electric train and Rusty (Jamie Golding), a steam train.  As the boy drifts into dreamland he orders the trains into race mode.  Everyone gets revved up except Rusty who is sent to the sidings as nobody takes him seriously because they think he is slow and old fashioned.

Rusty’s in love with Pearl (Rebecca Wright), the observation car, so when Rusty decides to enter the race, he asks Pearl to race with him but she turns him down, deciding instead to race with Electra. Rusty turns to Poppa (Lothair Eaton), an ex-champion steam train who tells him about the "Starlight Express", a mythical midnight train who helps other trains in distress. Rusty calls upon the Starlight Express to help him and of course wins the race. 

With the majority of the stage thrust into the audience the cast of highly polished performers skate their way in and out, through and over the set to great effect aided considerably by superb lighting effects.  The costumes too are outstanding in both the details of their design and enhancement of character. 

While the songs may not be as memorable as those from other Andrew Lloyd Webber shows they are nevertheless catchy and lyrical.  In this production some of the stand out numbers is Rusty poignant Starlight Express, Dinah (Torum Heng), the diner waitress with her humorous Dolly Parton style rendition of the country and western U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D, Pearl and Rusty’s heartfelt love duet Only He and the rousing gospel finale Light at the End of the Tunnel. 

While it is probably impractical to revert to the original concept of having the actual races, there are 3, performed live by the performers on their skates, something better than the races shown as films on projection screens could have been devised.  But even though this may negate some of the spark that those who saw the original will remember, this is nevertheless a dazzling, high octane show that is surprisingly audible given the size of the venue and the amplification used and where the skill and technique of the performers is highly tuned so that on opening night there were very few spills or mishaps.
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