Nice voices, nice skating,nice show 'Starlight Express' rolling at the Lyric

January 24, 1991|By Lou Cedrone | Lou Cedrone,Evening Sun Staff

THE ''STARLIGHT EXPRESS'' that opened last night at the Lyric Opera House is a scaled-down version of the production that played on Broadway for more than a year.

The verdict, however, is the same. If you like spectacle, song and dance, you should be pleased with what you see. If you're looking for something more, say a plot and shading, go elsewhere.

Actually, the plot is easier to follow at the Lyric than it was in New York, where most of the lyrics were indecipherable. This is not the case at the Lyric. You can hear just about everything the players are singing, and since the songs help the action along, this is no small advantage.

''Starlight Express,'' based on ''The Little Engine That Could,'' takes place in the mind of a little boy, in whose imagination an assortment of trains engage in trials and a final race to determine which is the more effective.

Steam, electric and diesel are all represented, and among the entrants are representatives from Japan, Italy, Germany and England. Some of the characters engage in treachery and deceit. Pearl leaves Rusty to team with Greaseball, leader of the diesel group. Red Caboose, a seemingly nice guy, proves he is not to be trusted.

But enough about the plot. The songs, dance and special effects make this production, while not as spectacular as the one in New York, lavish enough. In New York, the players, all on roller skates, used three levels of ramps that stretched from side to side in the theater. Because this is a traveling company, some of the action takes place on film.

The film portions, however, are brief. You don't begin to feel you are being short-changed, not when the score sounds this good, not when the dance and effects are as special as they are.

They seem to be doing more with lighting in the traveling version. At one point, a laser is used, and the result is almost awesome. So are the sprays of light that pierce the stage fog as they travel downward.

Andrew Lloyd Webber did the music; Richard Stilgoe, the lyrics. Webber did ''Starlight Express'' when he was still doing tuneful composition. He would become more abstract with ''Phantom of the Opera'' and ''Aspects of Love,'' but at the time (1984) he was still into melody, and it's all very listenable, very pop, a score that even includes a country-western number.

Ron DeVito is Greaseball, leader of the diesel faction; Rusty is leader of the steam group; and Michael Demby-Cain is Electra, head of the electric contingent. Dawn Marie Church is Dinah, the girl deserted by Greaseball, and Frank J. Maio is Red Caboose.

Nice voices. Nice skating. Nice show, one to which you can take the children, who may follow it a little more easily than their parents.

The Lyric, incidentally, never looked more intimate, but then ''Starlight Express'' was designed to dwarf the biggest of houses. A skate ramp, one that extends into the audience, adds to the possessiveness of the show.

Some people wondered if some of the score had been pre-recorded. Not so. The music is enhanced by synthesizers, but the rest is right there. All these people are actually singing. Each has a mike that curls around the side of the face to the mouth.

''Starlight Express'' will remain at the Lyric Opera House through Feb. 17.

''Starlight Express''

*** ''The Little Engine That Could'' is set to music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. An extravaganza in which all the participants are ''trains'' moving about on roller skates.

CAST: Ron DeVito, Fred Tallaksen, Reva Rice, Dawn Marie Church, Frank J. Maio, Michael Demby-Cain

DIRECTOR: Arlene Phillips

RUNNING TIME: Two hours and seven minutes with one intermission.

TICKETS: 625-1400

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