The musical first had lots of wheels

October 09, 1997|By Judith Green

"Starlight Express" is the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that no one remembers.

It started in 1975 as a children's story about trains. Lloyd Webber hoped it would become an animated cartoon, but the project never got off the ground. Finally he published it as a storybook for his own children, Nicholas and Imogen.

In 1984, he adapted "Starlight Express" for the stage. The gimmick of the spectacular London production was that the trains were played by actors on roller skates. (In-line skates had not yet been invented.) It was very popular -- in fact, it's still running -- but the injury rate among the cast was, and continues to be, astronomical.

The Broadway production featured Andrea McCardle in her first big role since "Annie."

But the musical never took off with regional companies because of its cost and impracticality. No regional theater could afford the number of top-notch skaters the show required or the time needed to rehearse them.

Also, to convert a theater into a roller rink, the stage had to be stripped and gutted and entry ramps installed in the aisles.

There is one place that can afford this kind of extravagance: Las Vegas, where a truncated version of "Starlight Express" has been a permanent fixture since 1993.

The more portable ice production solved the problem of taking the show on the road. Conceived by producer Kenneth Feld, who also manages Siegfried & Roy in Las Vegas, it began a two-year national tour in Lakeland, Fla., in August. The director is Olympic skater Robin Cousins.

'Starlight Express'

When: 7: 30 p.m. tomorrow-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

Where: Baltimore Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St.

Tickets: $15-$35; $75 for "pod seats" (boxes on the ice floor)

` Call: 410-347-2010

Pub Date: 10/09/97

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