Reviewed by Tiffany Markman, a mom to a two-year-old, tries to balance her workaholism with cuddling her daughter, reading books, consuming caffeine & reining in her intrinsic kugelry. Follow her on twitter.
Who’s it for?
If you have kids – aged, say, 4 to 14 – book now for Starlight Express, which recently opened at the Civic’s main theatre. And be prepared, immediately afterwards, for them to demand roller-skates, roller-blades or a skateboard.
What to expect
Expect very cool staging, jaw-dropping lighting, and stand-out performances from Bongi Mthombeni (Poppa), Carly Graeme (Pearl) and two stunt skaters.
But be aware that Starlight is a very basic love story about trains – and it may not rock your jaded adult socks quite like Cats, Phantom of the Opera or even Jersey Boys. I expected a bit more plot-wise, and then felt bad about it.
If, like me, you never saw the original roller-skating rock musical (which has been around, breaking all sorts of records, for 25 years), here’s the plot:
‘Control’ is a 10-year-old with a train set. He doesn’t want to go to bed because he’s busy arranging the World Championship Railroad Race. Mom’s instructions prevail. And, in his dreams, Control’s trains come to life to compete for a lap of honour as ‘the fastest engine in the world’; among them:
- Electra (electric),
- Greaseball (diesel),
- Rusty (steam; the underdog),
- Pearl (a first-class car; the love interest),
- Poppa (a retired steam champ),
- Dinah (a dining car), and
- A cast of eccentric others, including freight cars, a caboose, a sleeper, etc.
Because I’d never engaged with the story before, and because I couldn’t hear the singing very clearly, Starlight didn’t make a whole lot of sense at first.
Only after googling it at home afterwards did I recognise the Cinderella story – but in reverse: Rusty is a male Cinderella; Greaseball and Electra are the evil stepbrothers; and the Starlight Express is Rusty’s fairy god-entity. Sort of.
You should know that the staging is pretty amazing. For a start, there are seats on it. You know, for some of the audience*. I’ve never seen that before.
Then, the stage itself moves, rotates, splits into pieces, rises and falls. Seriously cool. The lighting is also gorgeous, and entertains all by itself.
And then there’s Bongi Mthombeni (Poppa), a former Idols contestant, who steals the show and whose every song, step and gesture is a joy to behold.
Having said all that, the sound was a little inconsistent in parts (which your kids will never notice, but which bothered me); the skating is really good considering a non-skating cast, but a bit wobbly here and there; and some of the singing is not on the level of Poppa and Pearl, nor of Dinah and Rusty.
This show will enthrall your kids but possibly not blow you away, unless Starlight is nostalgic for you. I’m only sorry my child is still too little for it.
Tip: Get the music beforehand, or find a DVD of an international version, and get your kids into it in advance. This is a trick my sister taught me. It makes all the difference in getting little ones into the storyline and songs of big musicals.
* Two mates sat in the sexy on-stage audience area. Their feedback is that it’s better in the normal seats, where there’s more face-time with the cast and sharper sound.