"Starlight Excess"

By Paul Moffett

Shortly after the show started, it became clear that it would have been helpful to have a pair of sunglasses at this latest of Broadway Series productions. As an exercise in excessive flash, "Starlight Express?' is light years ahead of most stage productions and even on a par with the bigger rock shows.

The entire stage was wrapped in light cans, lasers, light strings and spots. As if that were not enough, the costumes were made of mostly reflective material, so that it was frequently necessary to look away. g.

A plot as thin as your bank account on the last day of the month was the frame around which all this glitter was hung. A young boy's fantasy about a series of races between locomotives was the source, although a child with fantasies like this might do well to see a therapist. In reality, this resembled a partial rewrite of John Henry, the Steel Drivin' Man, with steam power taking the place of John Henry as the outmoded technology. Then again, it seemed to have borrowed heavily from the World Wrestling Federation, with a little gratuitous jingoism thrown in for good measure. As befits a good Broadway play, however, the good guy triumphed in spite of treachery by the other trains -- the steam train won the races. I hope I didn't give anything away.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's songs in this production were amazingly derivative. Throughout the evening, parts of the melodies would trigger memories of other of his tunes, or songs from somewhere else in the musical lexicon of Western Civilization, circa Twentieth Century, to such a degree that I was able to hum the tunes as I heard them the first time. While reworking old material into new work is certainly common and not always bad, Starlight's music o had the feel of burgoo about it – excessively boiled down, blended together and likely to disagree with you later on.

Poppa, the old steam engine, sang a tune that upon a close listen turned out to be a slam at the entire blues genre and, secondarily, at blacks. As best I recall, the lyrics went like this:

The second line of the blues is always the first line.

I said, the second line of the blues is always the first line.

When you get to the third line, you've had s time to think up a rhyme.

I mean, really. Every song that wasn't a melancholy ballad ended with the singer's arms outflung. I kept waiting for Al Jolson to pop in for a reprise of "Mammy."

The audience occasionally interrupted the singers to applaud the light show, sometimes inappropriately relative to the music.

The choreography was demanding and athletic and performed on skates. Putting the actors on skates changed ordinary moves into fluid and graceful dances. By comparison, the occasional moves executed off the skates were jerky.

Some dance turns were accordingly impressive on wheels. The actor playing the Red Caboose executed a rolling full split and return that drew deserved applause.

My wife liked the show, arguing that it should be taken in the spirit in which it was offered – as flashy entertainment, like a Busby Berkley dance routine from a mid-Thirties movie. Such a comparison only goes to show how far entertainment has come -- during the Depression years, movies were Cheap entertainment, which certainly could not be said of the Broadway Series, tickets to which cost in excess of thirty dollars.