Andrew Lloyd Webber

Starlight Express [Original Cast Recording]

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In 1981, Andrew Lloyd Webber scored what turned out to be the biggest success of his career with Cats, a lightly plotted musical using contemporary pop/rock music that was dominated by its costumes, staging, and choreography, and appealed primarily to children. Teaming up again with director Trevor Nunn, Lloyd Webber also repeated many of the essential elements of Cats in his next musical, 1984's Starlight Express. Where Cats was about felines, Starlight Express was about trains, with the actors portraying engines and sidecars in elaborate costumes, recreating the effect of trains on tracks by riding around the theater on roller skates. The plot, such as it was, had to do with a race. But the score consisted largely of what in the theater are called "I am" songs, in which individual characters introduce themselves. Thus, like Cats, which took its lyrics from poems by T.S. Eliot, Starlight Express was as much a collection of individual songs as a theater score. Lloyd Webber stuck largely to current pop/rock styles circa 1984, and that meant lots of synthesizers and percussive dance tracks. He also found space, however, to include pastiches of blues, rap, country, and gospel music that were little more than lampoons and often revealed their composer's ignorance of the forms. For example, "The Rap" was more reminiscent of the rhythmic "Rock Island" opening of The Music Man, itself set on a train, than of the rap music of the 1980s. Richard Stilgoe's lyrics were simplistic and often a bit suggestive for a children's show. The ensemble cast was adequate, but overwhelmed by both the music and the staging. The show opened in London on March 27, 1984, and was an immediate hit. This original cast album was recorded live and in the studio the following month. It was released belatedly in the U.S. on May 9, 2000.

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