Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express is roaring back and I’m ready to be transported

This daffy musical about racing trains inspired countless stage careers, including my own. A child’s imagination made real, it is a perfect introduction to theatre.

The light at the end of the tunnel shines again this summer as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express returns to London. The original production closed in 2002 after almost 18 years, making it the West End’s ninth longest-running show. For me it was the gateway to a love of theatre and performing which has never left – and also means I can’t visit Pizza Express without humming the title track. Here’s why we should hail the musical’s return …

It’s the original piece of immersive theatre

In 1984 this was as immersive as it got: a theatre turned into a racetrack. When the show takes over the huge Troubadour in Wembley Park it’s bound to be even more spectacular. Seating charts with “first-class carriage” and “trackside” options have given an idea of how close audiences will get to the racetrack as the cast of 40 quadruple threats (acting, singing, dancing – and skating) whiz past, leaving you with the wind in your hair and a whiff of deodorant in your nose.

Glorious joyous nonsense

The concept of Starlight sounds like screwball ramblings: “A child’s train set comes to life and they race to be the fastest. Chuck in love story between steam train Rusty and first-class carriage Pearl. His rival, Greaseball, will be a sendup of Elvis. Everything about Electra will strongly suggest he’s bisexual – let’s call his first song AC/DC.” But oh boy, is it fun. New director Luke Sheppard showed us with & Juliet that he knows how to do fun on stage and hopefully will do so on tracks, too.

It will get kids into the theatre

Lloyd Webber said he conceived the show as an entertainment event for children who love trains. The whole show is a child’s imagination made real and Starlight has always been the perfect family-friendly entry point to the magic of live theatre for tiny humans. You would not believe how many people on stage and behind the scenes are there because they saw singing steam trains when they were young. The show transports families into a world of high-energy escapism, and never has that been more needed.
The new crew are champs

Original choreographer Arlene Philips has turned creative dramaturg alongside a new team. Tim Hatley’s design for Back to the Future made a musical feel like a film, Andrzej Goulding’s Life of Pi video turned a theatre into an ocean and Gabriella Slade’s costumes crowned the Six queens. I’m excited to see the man who taught me to shuffle ball change when I did panto, choreographer Ashley Nottingham, have better success with actual professionals.

It’s still a mystery

Who knows what this version will be like? A key plot point (spoiler alert!) is diesel being better than electric. Cue Tesla owners revolting. Perhaps there will be a Hogwarts Express crossover? At least the jokes about British trains being late will still be relevant. The new production will be updated and refreshed for a new generation. It’s already a rework of a rework after it was revised in the 90s and again in Germany, where it has run since 1988 and where the British train is now named Brexit. But the music is pure nostalgia and the synth beats will be banging for Starlight Express and Make Up My Heart, both with lyrics by Richard Stilgoe. The catchy I Do was added to the German version, composed by Lloyd Webber’s son Alistair and with lyrics by Nick Coler – expect that to be your latest earworm.

It’s punderful

Critics will get to choo-choose as many skating and train-related puns as possible. Expect them to use their platform to get their skates on before being derailed, going off the tracks and becoming a trainwreck.


The concept of Starlight Express sounds fun, and makes me interested in it. I am a grown woman with no particular love or hate for trains.

I wonder how many Starlight Express fans are Thomas the Tank Engine fans, and vice versa. Or how many train fanatics have seen Starlight Express.

Prouvaire avatar

You don't have to be interested in trains to enjoy Starlight Express, just as you don't have to like cats to enjoy Cats. Cause that's basically what Starlight Express is: Cats on wheels. Same story, except that instead of dancing you get roller skating racing. :-)

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