But in Vegas, “Starlight” lives, and what was garish and soulless even by the standards of contemporary Broadway megamusicals, seems positively quaint in these surroundings.
Two years ago, the Las Vegas Hilton rebuilt its main showroom to accommodate the show, filling the stage and a small section of the front orchestra with John Napier’s wavy ramps and speedways. Several songs and the intermission were cut — no loss there — to squeeze it into the standard 90-minute format.
In “Starlight,” male actors play different kinds of train engines — steam, electric, diesel — vying for rail supremacy with the support of female actors playing passenger cars. A hunky contingent of men play freight cars, and there’s a caboose, too.
The story, such is it is, concerns a challenge to the American diesel champ, Greaseball (Rod Weber), by Electra (Anthony Perry) along with several stereotypically appointed international models. It also concerns the fickle affections of a passenger car named Pearl (Reva Rice), who has a tendency to go with the flow, breaking the heart of the hopelessly outdated Rusty (Freddie T).
That “Starlight” even has a storyline puts it way out in front among the more glittery revues in town. The show has some appeal as family entertainment, and at $ 49.50, it’s a bargain compared with $ 70 for “EFX” and a whopping $ 78.50 for Siegfried & Roy.
Still, the “Starlight” score is the worst in the Lloyd Webber canon, a pedestrian pastiche of rock, country and blues melodies made even more groan-inducing by lyrics that are at best mediocre. By comparison, the similar pop-music catalog Lloyd Webber devised for his first show, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” is infinitely more appealing.
The company seems adept at negotiating the tricky race scenes, though anyone who cares about the live human beings under all those whizzing costumes will hardly be comforted in the knowledge that the production boasts an on-call ambulance.
Still, the pulsating lights and throbbing music seem completely in synch with the surroundings. Whatever dangers it presents its cast, for the audience, the desert edition of “Starlight Express” is fairly painless.