The 'safety goggles' announcement kicks in. "What's going on?" I ask the chap to my right. "It's the 3D bit," he whispers. But that's not what I meant. The countdown begins – here come the 'train people'. And they're off!
It's a close call – the track is falling apart. But wait! Poppa's got a brand new bag (of coal, presumably). He's got the blues – he's just won the Heat! The crowd goes wild! Tremendous scenes here at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre. But will this be enough to show Rusty what an old steam train can do if he just believes in himself? Or does he need the help of a God-like force that looks and sounds a lot like Poppa and has the ability to make him fly? We'll have to wait and see. I'm still trying to figure out how Andrew Lloyd Webber ever put this ridiculous cartoon junk together.
Apparently, Webber wrote Starlight Express (one of the longest-running musicals in West End history) for his kids. Poor kids. He probably should have bought them a Thomas the Tank Engine set. Instead, we have this most peculiar hybrid of disco pop, rock and country that involves a little boy (Control) who dreams of his toy trains coming to life and racing each other. One of them, the aptly named Rusty (Kristofer Harding) falls for a ditzy blonde coach named Pearl (Amanda Coutts). She wants him to whistle at her. He isn't as fast as Greaseball (Jamie Capewell). Again, they're all wearing roller skates.
It's all over the place; a flashy, genre-hopping presentation of weird songs and bizarre choreography, delivered by a hyperactive cast who arrive on stage looking like Power Rangers.
Here's the craziest part: it works. Probably because the talented guys and gals who spend their time skating up ramps and putting on silly helmets to remind us that they're supposed to be trains, appear to be in on the joke.
There are some absolute shockers in there (the blues and hip-hop numbers) and the 'love' story is every bit as awkward as it sounds. But Starlight Express never forgets that there's an audience to entertain.
We're the race fans – we'll cheer for our favourites and root for Rusty. The big-screen, 3D race sequences only add to the fun.
Was Webber off his head when he wrote it? I don't know. At least it's more entertaining than Phantom.
Running until February 23. HHHII