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Starlight Express will be speeding into Sunderland next week for a fortnight-long run. Katy Wheeler stopped one of the stars in his tracks to find out more.

ALL ABOARD – one of my all time favourite shows is coming to town.

Doing this job, I go to see a lot of musicals and plays, but Starlight Express always manages to stand out among its contemporaries.

Maybe it’s the fantastical tale of toy trains that come to life or maybe it’s the high-speed choreography – whatever it is, Starlight Express is a musical theatre must.

After a break from the UK touring circuit, the show, in which the cast perform entirely on roller skates, is back with a bang this year.

Mykal Rand, who has played character Electra on and off for 25 years, is to Starlight what Elaine Paige is to Cats and he says he’s looking forward to riding the rails in Sunderland once again.

“It’s great being on the road again in the UK. The thing about this show is that it brings together people who have done the show before so it’s like being on tour with your family,” he said. “With this version we wanted to change the choreography. When the show was first put together it was very ahead of its time but every now and again we try to revamp it with fresh and raw choreography.”

During its time in the West End, the show became one of the longest running musicals in London’s theatre history with 7,461 performances.

Speaking about the show’s popularity Mykal said: “I think key to the show’s popularity is that it appeals to everyone whether you’re four or eighty, everyone leaves the show with beaming faces and singing the songs. It’s such a fantasy take, it transports you somewhere else.

“I’m not sure what was going through their heads when they came up with the concept. It’s an incredible idea and there’s no other show like it.”

So what keeps Mykal coming back to the role of Electra who is the musical’s “Engine of the Future”?

“He’s a really fun character to play, plus the combination of skating, singing and dancing is perfect for me,” he said. “But the skating means you can’t relax for one second on stage, you have to be on guard the whole time.

“It’s really hard on your muscles and means you have to treat life as an athlete rather than as a performer.”

In large theatres, actors perform on a track which arches through the audience, but for the Sunderland show, as with other venues on the tour, the cast will use a 3D film for this segment.

“We won’t have the track at Sunderland, that part will happen on a 3D screen,” says Mykal. “It’s such a mammoth task with taking the seats out. But the show in Germany still uses the track.

“A couple of years ago we went to New Zealand and used the track, we do when we get the chance.”

The tour will be a return to an old stomping ground for Mykal who performed in the show when it reopened the Empire after its grand refurbishment in 2004.

“I remember when we came to Sunderland last time, we were the first show to run after it reopened,” he said. “It’s a lovely theatre with a very friendly atmosphere.

“Audiences do vary around the country, you get some that are naturally loud. But the end result is always the same – it’s always a great show.”

l Starlight Express will be at the Sunderland Empire from Tuesday until November 24. Tickets are available on 0844 871 3022 or www.atgtickets.com.

Twitter: @sunechokaty

Win tickets to this theatre must-see

WE’VE teamed up with the producers of Starlight Express to give away two pairs of tickets to the opening night on Tuesday.

To be in with a chance of winning, answer this question:

What do the cast use to move around the stage?

a) Roller skates

b) Skateboards

c) Surf boards.

Send your details, marked Starlight Competition, to katy.wheeler@northeast-press.co.uk Closing date: Noon Monday.