Remembering Starlight Express

Posted on Jul 12th, 2010 by Shuchi in Theatre Trivia, English, Musicals

Starlight Express, directed by Aamir Raza Hussain Distant events gleam brighter when seen through the lens of memory, so they say. In writing of a play watched 18 years ago, I may be guilty of over-enthusiasm but for me, Starlight Express, a school production directed by Aamir Raza Hussain, is still the most spectacular play ever.

The play was based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock musical, a sort of cross between Toy Story and Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (Starlight Express,1984, predates both). Starlight Express is the quintessential underdog tale set in the world of toy trains: Rusty, the steam train, is ridiculed for being not fast enough by the "villains" – Greaseball, the posturing diesel locomotive and Electra, the slick new electric train. Starlight Express is the midnight train, a metaphor for God, that the other trains trust and look up to (while some question its existence). The play culminates in a high-energy, beautifully orchestrated race between the trains.

The lyrics and dialogues, not to mention the choice of character names, are remarkable for their wordplay. The dining car is a lady called Dinah, Electra’s armaments truck is called Krupp. The "lady" coaches notice Rusty as he "whistles" as them. The Smoking Car is Ashley, and her lament is:

I’ve tried to kick the habit but my inside’s used to tar
I know if I don’t give up I might choke or have a stroke
That scares me, and when I’m scared, boy I need a smoke.

The USP of Starlight Express was that it was performed entirely on roller-skates. The cast moved about and raced and danced on them. My most striking recollection is of a meandering track extending from the stage, built across the seating area. We wouldn’t just watch the cast in front of us but all about us; the race happened on the track cutting through the audience.

The songs were beautiful and were retained from the original. The singers, too, were all from school. YouTube links to a couple of the originals: the title song, in which Rusty calls upon the magical locomotive for help, and the very catchy number A Lotta Locomotion.

Rehearsals had happened for several months before the play was staged, with special focus on training for roller-skating. (Students of the Xth and XIIth classes, in deference to the Boards, were forbidden from participating)

The play was performed for three days at the Siri Fort Auditorium, New Delhi, in August 1992 (more on the DPS RK Puram website). It ran to packed houses and received rave press reviews. I wish I could link to the reviews but none of the newspaper archives go back to 1992. There used to be a monthly video news magazine called Newstrack in that pre-24x7News era. They had featured this play with interviews of the cast/crew and "Making Of" insights. (I looked for the video online – other than this page no luck there either.)

The finesse with which my schoolmates performed this play far surpasses many professional productions I see today. DPS RKP’s Starlight Express of 1992, with its energy and colours and non-stop action, was a stunner in every sense.

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Article by Shuchi

Shuchi lives in Bangalore (mostly), when she isn’t traveling out of town for work. She adores theatre and writes about plays she watches whenever she gets a chance.

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14 Comments to “Remembering Starlight Express”

  1. Shuchi,did you see this again recently?I remember really enjoying it but you seem to remember many more details than I did!

    July 15th, 2010 6:56 pm

  2. Haha. I have an elephantine memory for things I like. I also remember the clothes the lead actors wore and many of the songs.

    You do remember the race track, don’t you?

    July 15th, 2010 7:41 pm

  3. I am so happy to see that someone remembers that play!My favourite till date..ramkavya or surdas just couldn’t match it.I was a kid back then..barely remember the faces now but yes I do remember the race track cutting through the stage,entire play on skates and rusty!!Any idea who played the character of rusty?!!

    January 14th, 2013 10:08 am

  4. Great to hear from another Dipsite πŸ™‚ . You are so right – Ram Kavya and Surdas were grander in scale but lacked that fun factor. Rusty was played by Sharad Ghosh.

    January 14th, 2013 10:31 am

  5. Thanks!! πŸ™‚ After I saw starlight back then I had crush on rusty and I didn’t even know his name until now so thanks again!:)

    March 4th, 2013 9:19 am

  6. Really amazed…someone talking about the play that happened 21 yrs ago… I was fortunate to be a part of the same… Nuts (In greeseball gang :-() :-><

    December 27th, 2013 7:02 pm

  7. As I was watching jo jeeta wahi sikandar today, I ran a search of the movie title with starlight express, and chanced upon your blog. While reading through the start, I was thinking ‘man this sounds so similar to the dps rkp show I saw’..and lo and behold! I was in the junior branch (east of kailash) when they took us to watch this show. I was so impressed by the roller skating cast that I took it up right after, haha. Great to read this piece…brought out some great memories!

    December 28th, 2013 10:29 am

  8. @deepak Good to connect with someone from the cast! I was absolutely awed by that play. I recall there was a Newstrack video feature too on the play in that year. Were you part of it?

    @Chetan πŸ˜€ Thank you.

    May 26th, 2014 5:26 pm

  9. It is great to hear about this show after more than 20 years. I was in seventh when the show happened and i used to watch people scating around the badminton court in the chilling winters..truely it was a gem DPS ever produced. By any chance does anyone has a video of that show? Wud love to watch it once again

    October 1st, 2014 10:59 pm

  10. @Akash I’ve tried looking for it online, no luck so far. Maybe someone from the cast will have a copy and will stop by to share. *fingers crossed*

    October 1st, 2014 11:25 pm

  11. So great to see a mention of this event.. it was a memorable experience for all of us

    Aka Greaseball

    November 2nd, 2016 2:41 am

  12. Hi Shuchi,
    Wonderful to come across your blog post. I googled Aamir Raza Hussain and chanced upon you. You have cataloged it beautifully. In fact I have shared your blog on my FB. The conversation was kindled when my stage partner Greaseball( Vikas) and I connected (I was Dinah)!

    November 2nd, 2016 8:02 pm

  13. Vikas and Aditi – fantastic to have Greaseball and Dinah reading this page πŸ™‚

    December 3rd, 2016 4:02 pm

  14. Flattop: Missing you guys a lot. It was really a memorable show.

    July 30th, 2017 12:15 am

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