Gemma and Danielle get their skates on to join Paul in Starlight Express
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express first opened at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in the West End in 1984. Spawning international productions on Broadway and in Vegas, Japan and Australia, the West End show ran for a staggering 7,406 performances over 17 years before it eventually closed in January 2002. But the longest running production of the show is actually in Bochum, Germany where it first opened in June 1988 and, now it’s 29th year later, is still going strong!
Seen by more than 15 million people, Starlight Express is Germany’s most popular musical and currently features three London Studio Centre alumni.
Paul Shipp as Purse in Starlight Express
Paul Shipp was the first to join the cast in 2007. After graduating from LSC in 2003, Paul performed as the Genie in the Mansfield Palace Theatre’s production of Aladdin before going on to perform in a number of West End musicals including Caspar The Musical, Grease and We Will Rock You. In 2004 he joined the cast of the Leeds City Varieties Music Hall production of Aladdin, but this time in the titular role. He could also been see dancing at BBC’s Party In The Park and at the Blue Peter and Children In Need charity galas and he even featured in adverts for Sky Sports. Paul has been part of Starlight’s cast for 10 years and during that time he has been the main actor for a number of characters including Krupp, Purse, Ruhrgold and Electra. He currently acts as a swing, covering the roles of Papa, Greaseball, Electra, Caboose, Dustin and Components.
Starlight Express stage in Bochum, featuring the multi-level tracks and nine-tonne bridge which can rotate and can connect to all levels.
Gemma Archer and Danielle Lockwood both joined Starlight Express at the beginning of 2017.
Gemma was a member of London Studio Centre’s music theatre company, Seedtime, before she graduated in 2015. That same year, she moved to France to work at Disneyland Paris where she performed as a lead singer in Chanton La Reine De Neiges. In 2016, she returned to the UK to tour with Jackie The Musical before working as Dance Captain and Cover for Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk at Central Theatre, Chatham.
Danielle was also a member of Seedtime and featured in their production of Lucky Stiff. She performed as Ellewoods from Legally Blonde, Wednesday Addams from Addams Family and Vera from Stepping Out in Seedtime’s Mini Musicals Showcase. She graduated in 2016 and Starlight Express is her first professional musical theatre credit.
View of the 'tracks' that run through the audience in the Starlight Express theatre in Bochum.
Starlight Express is a unique musical in that the whole cast performs on roller skates around a track-like stage. Gemma had a pair of rollerblades as a child and Danielle tried an impromptu practice at a pop-up roller disco but neither had any real roller skating experience before joining the show. But that didn’t matter as the show runs ‘Skate School’, an intensive skating training course designed to get everyone up to speed.
“It was extremely difficult and frustrating, but hilarious and exciting all at the same time,” says Danielle. “It's hands down the most rewarding thing to be able to successfully learn a new skill and put it into practise on a stage like this.”
“As a trained dancer and singer learning a new skill from scratch is tough,” says Gemma. “It didn't just happen. It took months of blood, blisters and bruises! When I got to opening night, I'd never felt a sense of achievement like it.”
Gemma, Danielle and the rest of the class of 'Skate School 2017' on set in Bochum, Germany.
Due to the nature of the show, the girls were well aware of the risk of injury that comes with performing in Starlight Express.
“You have to be so aware of everything at all times,” says Danielle, “We don't say things like 'break a leg', we say 'stay safe' and 'safe race'.
However, the girls say that the thrill skating at high speeds around the track gives them a great feeling of adrenaline and excitement that “overrides how tired you are, how much your body aches or how bad of a day you’re having.” They also get a real rush and sense of achievement when they finish a show unscathed.
Danielle in her swing roles:
Top Left - Ashley, Top Right - Buffy,
Bottom Left - Volta, Bottom Middle - Joule, Bottom Right - Wrench.
Due to the higher risk of injury compared to a normal musical, Starlight Express does allow a greater opportunity for its ensemble members to swing as main characters while the main actors recover. Danielle swings as five of the characters; Ashley, Buffy, Volta, Joule and Wrench. Gemma Has recently started swinging as Dinah, Ashley, Wrench and Volta and frequently swings as Pearl, the main female lead!
Gemma in her swing roles:
Far Left - Dinah, Middle Left - Ashley, Middle Right - Wrench, Far Right - Volta.
When asked what advice they would give to aspiring music theatre performers, Danielle says,
“You HAVE to have thick skin and be open minded. Utilise and learn from every audition you go to and don't give up. You have to really want it and give it everything you've got.
“Believe in yourself. There is no be all and end all job, be open minded.”
Gemma in her swing role of Pearl.
Finally we asked the girls what skills they learnt at LSC that prepared them for the professional world.
“Professionalism, integrity and a pretty good brain. I genuinely think I owe a lot of my swing brain to the Matt Mattox technique.”
"Amongst the obvious skills like technique and stage presence, I really felt like I was prepared to face the outside world by the time I graduated. In 3rd year especially, we were taught what to expect from auditions in both singing and dance rounds and even had opportunities to put what we had learnt into practice in workshops with industry professionals and agent week. Without LSC I wouldn't have been able to achieve what I have done so thank you to everyone at London Studio Centre who helped make me into the performer I am now."