Skating in a legendary production
Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express has had productions and tours across the globe, including UK, Broadway, Japan, Germany and Australia. In 2002 the show closed in the West End after clocking up over 7000 performances and the current production in Bochum, Germany has played nearly 11,000 times since it opened in 1988. A tally which would leave it just 2000 performances away from over taking the current longest-running musical in the West End, Les Miserables.
In Bochum, the cast is 41-strong, with performers speeding around a custom built skate track achieving up to 60 kilometers per hour and burning an estimated 4,000 calories per show. The creative team constantly develops and renews their work keeping the show fresh for returning audiences. Lord Webber has reworked the music throughout its history and Arlene Phillips; choreographer for the production has continually updated her work keeping the show contemporary for modern audiences. As a result of this, after 28 years in Bochum the show is still thriving, selling out to enthusiastic audiences eight shows a week. Chief executive, Maik Klokow commented in a recent article in The Stage that the venue is “more of a sports arena than a theatre” and that “the speed achievable on our tracks is ridiculously high and very dangerous… people very much appreciate being part of that sports-like, competitive extravaganza”. He adds, “the scale of the show is unlike anything you’ll ever see in the West End, and it plays to a hugely passionate audience who come back time and time again, supporting the show with unfaltering passion”.
Throughout it’s running history many of our alumni have performed in the production, most recently Leanne Groutage who graduated in 2013. Upon graduating Leanne appeared in Alan Carr's New Years Specstacular, The One Show, Salsa nights at the New Wimbledon Theatre, as well as the BBC show; So You Think You Can Dance. Her first musical theatre role was as a swing in the UK tour of Seven Brides For Seven Brothers before heading to Bochum to play Joule (cover Dinah, Buffy and Ashley) in Starlight Express.
Above: Backstage pictures of Leanne Groutage in Starlight Express, Bochum
We recently spoke with Leanne to find out how she was enjoying her time in Germany:
L: Performing in Starlight Express for a year and a half has been extremely physically demanding it has not been an easy ride but definitely one I will never forget. It is an honour to be involved in such an iconic Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Taking a bow as Dinah gives me a rush, after seeing the UK tour as a child I always loved the role, so I guess it's a little dream come true!
What skills did you have from your training at LSC that helped you?
L: Having danced throughout my childhood with Harlequin Stage School in Worcester, I was lucky enough to join LSC to further my training as a dancer and singer. In 3rd year I joined the musical theatre pathway and gained performance experience with the Seedtime music theatre company. I learnt many invaluable things about working in this industry whilst still working on vital skills in all three musical theatre disciplines. Working with professionals and learning correct audition etiquette and building my repertoire whilst still at college, I feel really helped me to book jobs once I graduated and I will always be grateful for this training.
In Seven Brides For Seven Brothers you were cast as a swing, learning multiple roles. How did you find it having such a high-pressured position?
L: I have been lucky to work with such great people already, on Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, working with Emmy nominated director; Patti Columbo was such a great experience. Being swing of all the brides was always going to be a challenge, but it was an enjoyable and an invaluable experience for me as an actress to try and portray all the roles how Patti had desired. Rehearsing for your own role is a very different process than being a swing, with Starlight Express being such an iconic musical, there is a lot of pressure to perform it in a certain way as many have done before and will continue to do so in the future. I tried to embrace this putting everything into Joule, even if it meant falling on my face a few times (literally!). Having previously worked as swing I found it quite enjoyable to work on my cover parts in Starlight Express! Although always being nervous the first time playing them, I thoroughly enjoy going on for Dinah, Buffy and Ashley now.
What new skills did you need to learn and develop for Starlight Express?
L: I was cast in the show from my skills as a dancer and singer, having never skated before, so becoming a professional roller skater in three months was a massive challenge! Michal Fraley (skating coach for Starlight Express since the late 1980s) and two skate coaches were a great team and helped the new cast members go from absolute beginners to super skilled roller-skaters ready to race and dance the famous show on four wheels. To learn a show in another language proved at first, quite difficult, but then after many hours of work and with phonetics classes to keep it up, it became quite fulfilling to understand and perform my lines and songs in German!
What advice do you have for performing arts students following in your footsteps?
L: My advice would be to believe in yourself as much as you can, it's so important! It can be quite easy to doubt yourself and your talents in an industry that is forever thriving, but when it comes to yourself, you have to believe great things and then hopefully others will believe in you too. Also to always try your hardest in everything you do, working hard is the key to success, when working in live theatre everyday of course there will be days that are not perfect, but all you can do is know that you are trying your hardest right there and then and that will help you to keep going at your strongest. And finally the best advice I was ever given whilst training was to 'enjoy the journey' I have to remind myself sometimes that there is always happiness to be found, not just at the destination! 'Keep confident, always work hard and enjoy the journey!'
For me, I learnt so much during my time at LSC and will always be grateful for how they helped me start my career, as an actress, you are always learning and developing new skills through time, as I said it's about the journey so enjoy it and best of luck!