‘Starlight Express’ Coming to LHS

Starlight+Express+Coming+to+LHS

Tia Petrzilka and Jarrett Malec

Behind the Scenes

Every year, the Fine Arts Department at LHS puts together a number of productions.  However, this November, they are doing something that has never been done in the history of the school: they are performing a musical on roller skates.  

“Starlight Express” is rarely done in a high school setting, due to the nature of the play.

“No high school in their right mind puts on ‘Starlight Express;’ it’s too technically and choreographically complicated. But we’re doing it, and we’re not failing, and that to me is the most exciting thing in the world,” stated senior Taylor Skie, who plays Dinah the dining car.

The technical director of the show, Mr. Kevin Holly, saw the original production of “Starlight Express” (written by Andrew Lloyd Webber) in London in 1985 and was in awe of the performance.

“The reason why I love it so much is that it’s a spectacle in terms of the actors.  [They’re] roller skating, they’re dressed up in these costumes that make them look like trains.  The lighting [for this production] is going [to] be overwhelming, the effects that are going to happen — they [will be] skating through the audience,” exclaimed Mr. Holly.  “Just the sheer size and spectacle will be something that has never happened as far as I know in this auditorium…It’s Andrew Lloyd Webber, so it’s going to be big and just amazing to watch.”

Many of the students had no prior skating experience, but they put in the hours to learn as early as May at the roller rink in Mundelein, where they currently rehearse.  

“Last year [on] the last day of final exams, we had our annual Stage Players picnic at the local forest preserve and then virtually everyone that was there then went over to the roller rink in Mundelein and we had our first skate night that night,” mentioned Mr. Holly. “Over the summer, a lot of the students…every Wednesday night would be there skating.”

The musical is centrally a Cinderella-like story about a steam engine named Rusty (played by sophomore Jack Miller)  and his goal is to win the affection of Pearl (played by Jackie Ovassapian), the classiest coach.  It takes place in the imagination of a little boy.

“It’s really a love story — it’s all about the underdog,” explained Mr. Christopher Thomas, English and theater teacher, and the director of the musical.  “The Cinderella character Rusty trying to get the girl in the end.”

According to Mrs. Eryn  Brown, the music director and choreographer for the show, there is a set score for the show; it has the accompanying music that is written already for the musical.

“I use obviously the music to help do the rhythm and the counts and stuff like that, but the main determining factor is the play’s plot.  We use the story to help develop the choreography, the characters, where it’s from — any type of mood that you want the audience to feel and also thinking about the performers’ skills.  I like to use the students’ special talents in the best way possible,” explained Mrs. Brown.

Skie elaborated on what it’s like to be a part of the production.

“Being a part of ‘Starlight Express’ is like taking an AP class. You go into it sort of overestimating how well it’s going to go, and all of a sudden it starts and everything’s so fast-paced that you can’t keep up…you find yourself silently wondering if you should have done this because you just don’t think you can make it,” said Skie. “But then you do, and you do it so well that it makes everything so worth it, and you start to wish you could do it all over again.”

Lead Jackie Ovassapian plays the role of Pearl, an observation car. Pictured above (center), she runs routines in Act I with others in the cast.
Photo by Lola Akindale
Lead Jackie Ovassapian plays the role of Pearl, an observation car. Pictured above (center), she runs routines in Act I with others in the cast.

Despite all the hard work that must be done, Miller explained why it’s worth it.

“I chose to be a part of ‘Starlight Express’ not only because I love to dance and sing, but because of what an amazing experience being part of a cast is,” shared Miller.  “We are like a family, and being around such a positive group of people is the highlight of my high school experience.”

There will be a total of four performances of the production in the LHS auditorium: on Thursday, Nov. 5, at 7:30 p.m.; on Friday, Nov. 6, at 7:30 p.m.; on Saturday, Nov. 7, at 7:30 p.m.; and on Sunday, Nov. 8, at 3 p.m.

Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for students at the door. For advanced tickets, visit www.lhsstageplayers.org or call 847-327-7058.  

“I think everybody should definitely come see the show,” said Mrs. Brown.  “First of all, it’s rarely ever done, especially in high schools but even in professional theater, because of the of the roller skating logistics — building a track and having performers who can actually roller skate.  So the fact that it is going to be performed at LHS is a very rare experience and I think based on the work that everybody’s put into it, it’s going to be a really good show.”

Skating Safety and Construction

On Nov. 5-8, the LHS theatre department will be showcasing the famous musical production: “Starlight Express.”

For this musical, most of the cast will be on roller skates, which presents an issue of safety. In order to make sure that all students and cast would be as safe as possible, preparation for this musical began at the end of the last school year.

“We started skate nights on Wednesday nights at the roller rink in Mundelein. Our first skate night was the last day of final exams. There were students from Libertyville at every single skate night. It was good to get them to feel comfortable on skates, as well as preparing for auditions,” stated LHS Theater Coordinator Kevin Holly.

 Just like the staff and crew, the cast itself is very excited to take on the task of this show.

“It took a lot of work to get comfortable on skates but it’s totally worth it because this show is a one-of-a-kind experience,” stated supporting lead “Rou” and junior Marley Fredricksen

Along with having weekly open-skate practices, the theater department contacted many people about how to ensure safety for everyone involved. They asked the roller rink staff about what type of skates to use, as well as Athletic Trainer Ron Russ, to inform him about the rehearsals and the possibility of an injury.

“We had a guy come in who we called our skate professional. He came and worked with students for a long time both over the summer and in the beginning of the process this year. I also had a meeting with the Libertyville Fire Department fire marshall about what they would let us do with the audience,”Mr. Holly informed.

Seen above, set construction for the musical took out rows of seats in the auditorium to allow cast members to skate through the audience during the show. Hannah Hartung (in front) leads others as they practice on ramps.
Photo by Lola Akindale
Seen above, set construction for the musical took out rows of seats in the auditorium to allow cast members to skate through the audience during the show. Hannah Hartung (in front) leads others as they practice on ramps.

With the expansive role of skating in the musical this fall, Mr. Holly and the crew began work earlier than normal on the set in order to give the cast more time to rehearse and get familiarized with the layout of the stage. Every part of the floor used for skating will be covered up with an extra piece of hardboard material to make the surface smoother. Additionally, there are railings everywhere on the set for the skaters, according to Mr. Holly.

“We’ve taken seats out and put that hardwood material on the floor like we did on the stage for students to skate on. In order to create more space for them to skate we left the pit cover on that we usually take out to put the orchestra in. They are now going to be on stage for students to have even more room to skate,” stated director of the musical and English teacher, Christopher Thomas.

“Other than a school in Ohio about eight or nine years ago, there have been very few high school productions of the ‘Starlight Express.’ That is why there is a certain type of buzz around the community, because it is so rare to see,” Mr. Thomas said.”