Friday, 8 August 2008

REVIEW: "Starlight Express" Revisited

Due to commitments for a workshop in London and a lack of affordable accommodations, the RZ has had to pass on this year’s Edinburgh festival, instead choosing to take advantage of EasyJet one last time before fares skyrocket again and revisit one of his favourite shows, Starlight Express, in Bochum.

First and foremost, the good news: The show is still as visually spectacular as ever, and even on return the visuals alone justify the cost of all but the most expensive tickets.

Second, most of the current cast are excellent. Kevin Köhler, cast through a reality show, is an innocent, boyish Rusty and keeps the character from coming across as spoilt or whiny. Carl Ellis is an inspired choice as Papa, with a beautiful voice and limitless spirit. Andreas Wolfram is a solid understudy Greaseball, and Ernest Marchain takes the role with the appropriate flair and ego (or so his performance at the prior day’s open day implied). The weak cast member, however, is Carla Langridge as a presence-less Pearl. While the character is far from the RZ’s favourite among the female cast (that would be Dinah), she is central and utterly un-interesting. As the RZ saw the show the day after a large public event, however, it’s possible that energy backstage was low and he caught her on a bad night.

And now for the bad news.

After a visit from Andrew Lloyd Webber earlier this year, approximately eight minutes have been cut since the RZ’s prior visit: the scene with Greaseball, Dinah, and Caboose which establishes the latter two’s motivations after the first race is gone, “Freight” and “Crazy” are shorter, and “Next Time You Fall In Love” has been replaced with the new “Only He/Only You” hybrid from the UK tour. To top it all off, the overture has been cut and the magical moment at the beginning where Greaseball’s components and the characters race through the audience in the dark is gone, replaced with the introduction of the national trains so that the first act is now effectively the 1992 London edition but with Hoppers instead of Rockies.

Word from those involved in the show is that Lloyd Webber feels that if the Bochum production is the show’s flagship then it should stay current with his edits, but in the RZ’s opinion (as well as those he talked to), the Bochum production has run for 20 years under the banner of “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” but Webber seems intent on fixing the show until it breaks. If the next round of proposed changes (cutting “Girls Rolling Stock” and replacing “Lotta Locomotion” with the revised tour edition) go through, the Bochum show will resemble the unwieldy homunculus of the touring editions rather than the cohesive, multi-layered family show that got it where it is today.

Staying on the topic of tours, it is the 2006 UK tour which cost the Bochum production half of its orchestra: when the German producers saw the tour they felt they could adjust the stationary version accordingly, even though the tour relied heavily on click track whereas the Bochum production is entirely live. While the RZ had problems with the sound on his prior visit, he found it even worse the second time around, particularly during the last 7-10 minutes when, in true modern fashion, the sound was pumped up for the finale and curtain call/megamix and the shallowness of the arrangements became especially clear.

Needless to say, it’s hard for the RZ to make the same enthusiastic recommendation as he did eight months ago, but he adores Starlight Express enough that he’s willing to continue encouraging people to go. The Bochum production is still the best version going, the custom venue is a lot of fun, and the town is a nice place to spend a couple days.

RZ Other Notes: Rather than printing a normal souvenir programme, the 20th anniversary cast are memorialised alongside the production’s history in a new hardcover photo book from Klartext. At €20, the page count is higher than the standard programme (last years still being available), but its purpose ends there. The text excerpts (and many photos) are cribbed in more than a few places from the programme and the show’s website, and the new text is relatively shallow. Photos from the original cast are poor quality, and most of the images in the book aren’t annotated with who’s actually in them. The top focus seems to be special events and visitors to the show rather than a serious look at its evolution, either through the lyrical and musical changes or even the developments in the costumes. For a casual fan who just wants some pretty pictures, this is good enough, but how many casual fans are going to shell out twice as much for the hardcover as the souvenir programme, especially when the current cast bios are included with both as a b/w insert? For a serious theatre historian, the book is barely worth using as a starting point for further research, as the details are sketchy and intellectual content is lacking in its entirety. And yet the RZ still handed over his money for it...

On a humourous note, Kevin Köhling’s fellow TV winner, Anna-Maria Schmidt, is profiled in the book and current cast list insert as Pearl even though she dropped out during rehearsals and never went on.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I saw it yesterday. Great show. Expensive. But go and enjoy it!