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Review: 'Starlight Express' rolls into Tuacahn with impressive costumes, special effects

Published June 12, 2013 9:45 am

Theater review • Andrew Lloyd Webber's underrated musical comes alive at Tuacahn.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Ivins • The quarter-million people who pay top dollar to see musicals at the Tuacahn Outdoor Amphitheater near St. George expect shows to be full of special effects.

And the first professional U.S. regional production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Starlight Express" does not disappoint.

The cast performs the show almost entirely on roller skates on a complex set that resembles a skate park — with parts that jut into the audience. The show also includes 3-D special effects, complex costumes and pyrotechnics galore.

The plot is simple. A young boy, played by Payton Kemp, dreams of a race to determine the world's fastest train. Six trains representing three different countries as well as a diesel, electric and steam train are part of the competition. Actors on skates symbolize engines and cars. Having Kemp play the role is a first. In all previous productions of "Starlight Express" the character is called Control and is only a voice.

In the end, Rusty the steam engine, Greaseball the diesel and Electra the electric compete for the affections of Pearl, a "first class" rail car.

"Starlight Express" was first produced in London in 1984. As Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals go, it never quite achieved the popularity of "Phantom of the Opera," "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Cats," or "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."

Its musical stylings that include rock, country and a good dose of blues often resemble "Joseph" — a Utah favorite that Tuacahn will produce in 2014.

The thing that complicates this show is that it is performed on roller skates. Though, in another new Tuacahn twist, some of the dancers utilize "heelies" or shoes with skates on the heels only.

Louanne Madorma-Williams, imported from Las Vegas to direct and choreograph this show, said on Saturday's opening night that the actors had only 22 days to learn their lines and dances as well as figure out how to skate. The effort was "heroic" as temperatures on stage reached triple digits during the daytime rehearsals.

There were a few stumbles on opening night but considering the complexity of the production, they could easily be excused. This is a show that will get better as the summer progresses.

Costumes designed by Marlo Rawlings and Clark Schaffer added to the extravagance of the production. From Electra's blue lighted costume to the flashlights that served as Greaseball's Hands, the costumes helped tell the story. The temperature Saturday hovered around 100 degrees, making the actors wearing the heavy-looking outfits all the more impressive.

Steven M. Goldsmith as Rusty — the "wimp who makes good" — possesses a wonderful voice and portrays his character with the right amount of vulnerability and hopefulness.

Villains Greaseball played by Todd Dubail and Electra, Dustin Dubreuil, are two bad guys people can actually like.

The strongest performance, though, was turned in by C. Mingo Long, who played both the Starlight Express and Poppa. His booming voice and ability to connect carried the show.

The female lead of Pearl played by Delaney Westfall proved more problematic. Though she possesses a lovely voice, her connection with the audience wasn't quite as strong. Perhaps I didn't like her fickle character.

Gail Bennett as Dinah provided one of the night's highlights with her rollicking "U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D" song, which did seem quite similar to "One More Angel in Heaven" in Joseph.

As for the special effects, the 3-D screen requiring special glasses that worked well for Aladdin a year ago seemed to get in the way and added little to the production. The fireworks and pyrotechnics offered the big bang Tuacahn audiences expect. And the orchestra, hidden off the stage, was up to the task.

This is a G-Rated family show that kids might even like better than the more familiar "Mary Poppins," also playing at Tuacahn this year. The actors are so close to the audience at times that it's easy to feel the rumble of the skates.

Starlight Express is fun, beautiful to watch and certainly adds to Tuacahn's reputation as a theater willing to take chances with special effects.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter @tribtomwharton —

'Starlight Express' at Tuacahn Amphitheatre

P This show performed almost entirely on roller skates has impressive costumes and special effects. It's so much fun to watch that it's easy to forgive its minor flaws.

When • Reviewed Saturday, June 8. Continues through Oct. 24. June 6-Aug. 10, 8:45 p.m.; Aug. 15-31, 8:30 p.m.; September, 8 p.m.; October, 7:30 p.m.

Where • Tuacahn Amphitheatre, 100 Tuacahn Dr Ivins; 435-652-3300

Tickets • $23.50-$59.50