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‘Starlight Express’ skating to a close

'Bombay Dreams' to move into Apollo Victoria Theater

LONDON — “Starlight Express,” the roller-skating extravaganza that is second only to “Cats” among long-running West End musicals, will steam its way one last time through the Apollo Victoria Theater on Jan. 12, two months shy of its 18th birthday.

It will be replaced at that theater next summer by “Bombay Dreams,” a new show produced — though not written — by “Starlight” composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Among Lloyd Webber’s collaborators on “Starlight” were lyricist Richard Stilgoe and director Trevor Nunn, who over time has staged four of Lloyd Webber’s musicals, including, most recently, “Sunset Boulevard.”

By the time it closes, “Starlight” will have played 7,406 perfs to more than 8 million people, grossing more than $200 million. It’s the second Lloyd Webber musical to announce a London closing in as many months, following “The Beautiful Game,” which is entering its final week at the Cambridge Theater.

In an interview with Variety last month, Lloyd Webber expressed his surprise at the longevity of the show: “Just when you think, ‘Well, now it’s time to go bye-bye,’ ‘Starlight’ does this inexplicable surge that you want to put down to superb marketing.”

At the same time, he added, as if anticipating this past week’s decision to close “Starlight” at last, “I cannot believe it’s going to go on forever and ever and ever. Never in 1984 did one think we were about to do 18 years” of the musical.

A largely Americanized version of the show opened on Broadway in March 1987, to notably little enthusiasm, including a blistering pan from Frank Rich in the New York Times, who called the environmental musical set in the world of train travel “the perfect gift for the kid who has everything except parents.”

“Starlight” fared better in Las Vegas and in Bochum, Germany, where it opened in June 1988, in a purpose-built theater and is still running.

Its closure in London will leave “Cats,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Miz” to continue to represent the British musical behemoths of the 1980s. The latter two are still running on Broadway as well.

As for its replacement in London, the Bollywood-themed “Bombay Dreams” has a score by A.R. Rahman, who is based in Madras, and a book by London-based Meera Syal. Steven Pimlott is directing, with designs by Mark Thompson and filmmaker Shekhar Kapur (“Elizabeth”) on hand as production adviser. Budgeted at about $6 million, the show — described by Lloyd Webber as “quite big” — is expected to open in June.

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