3D Starlight set to shine

3D Starlight set to shine

Chris Lau talks to the choreographer of the revamped roller-skating musical


Starlight Express_L
Photo: Eric Richmond
Many of us grow up imagining our toys could come to life. In Starlight Express, that dream comes true.

The long-running musical - first performed in London in 1984 - tells the story of a little boy who falls asleep after playing with his toy trains. In his dream, dozens of model trains come to life in the form of roller-skating actors and dancers who speed around in a rhythmic, action-packed fiesta.

The show sees the cast perform X-Game-like stunts. The Hong Kong show boasts new arrangements introduced last year, and features visuals of races which are projected for the audience in 3D. The show will be performed 29 times at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, in Wan Chai, from October 4 to 27.

"I would say Starlight is the show that is like no other," says Arlene Phillips, Starlight Express' choreographer and director. "Not only does the cast sing, dance, and act, but they do it all on wheels. It's a musical theatre show, but has a sporting element to it."

Over its three decades, Starlight Express - which ran for 18 years and 7,000 performances in London - has toured around the world, in countries including Japan, the United States and Australia. The show was last in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The show's music has been constantly updated, and teems with currently popular genres - from hip hop to R&B to electro-pop - so that it remains relevant and popular with audiences, especially younger fans.

He may have written many hit musicals, and be something of an expert, but composer Andrew Lloyd Webber is always open to new ideas, says Phillips.

"Because Andrew wants to keep the show updated, he constantly revives the music, adds new music and changes arrangements to keep the show very current."

Even when new songs and genres are added, though, the production team keeps the essence of the show intact by including classic rock 'n' roll, and heartfelt ballads; a new addition to this production is I Do, by Lloyd Webber's son, Alistair.

The new show makes the most of technological breakthroughs. The audience is asked to put on seatbelts and safety goggles, to "avoid dangerous train crashes"; in fact, the goggles are 3D glasses that help to create mind-boggling illusions, such as a speeding train hurtling towards them, something that couldn't have been done without modern technology.

Phillips says costume design is also better than ever.

"Although the costumes are still huge and enormous, they're less weighty than they were," she says; using lighter outfits means the cast can perform even more dynamic stunts.

The actors' elaborate costumes also help to distinguish characters from one another: there's little chance you'll confuse the weather-beaten Poppa, for example, with Electra, a shiny, hi-tech locomotive.

Much of the choreography is also new, and includes stunt skaters taking off from ramps and hip hop dancers showcasing the latest moves.

"The Hong Kong show will be the first time that we have ever had a female hip hop dancer take part," says Phillips.

She is delighted to be still involved in the show she helped to create.

"There is no feeling like it - to think that you have a show that you started working on in 1982, and then opened in 1984.

"To think it has played in many other places in the world since 1984 is phenomenal."

Young Post has four pairs of tickets to give away for the 7.30 show on Saturday, October 5. For a chance to win, send your name, age, school, and contact number to syp@scmp.com

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- 18-year-old Anson Yeung represented Hong Kong at the House of Dancing Water summer camp where they experienced flying, high-performance diving and moto bungee that's part of the spectacular production.

- Celebrating differences and being accepting is at the heart of what Broadway musical Hairspray represents, and is particularly apt in Hong Kong



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