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With actors singing and dancing on roller skates and a stunt skater flying through the air, Starlight Express, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s spectacular musical, has always been far from typical. However, this all-new production, which makes its debut at Grand Casino Biloxi’s Biloxi Grand Theatre on April 1, will add something even more extraordinary to the Broadway musical genre - the inclusion of innovative 3D film sequences.

Starlight Express is the story of an unseen nine year-old boy who, while playing with his model train set, is sent to bed by his (also unseen) mother. As he slumbers, his imagination (the Controller) takes over, controlling the engines and cars, and giving each a life and personality of its own. In his dreams, a competition is declared whereby each train engine will pull one car in a series of races staged across North America. Through the course of the show, the trains engage in a series of competitions that morph from live on-stage action to 3D film projected on a screen that covers the entire back wall of the theatre. As the races begin, audiences are alerted to “put on their safety goggles” (3D glasses) to watch the races on film.

The 3D film was shot on location in an abandoned missile silo in Wales during the winter of 2002. “The filming process was already extremely challenging - working with 3D technology,” said Julian Napier, who directed the 3D film. “It was compounded by doing it in arctic conditions akin to a Siberian salt mine with the batteries going down.”

To create the 3D effect, high-tech stereoscopic cameras were used to film two images side by side in much the same way the human eye sees. Later, when the two images were combined, a stereoscopic illusion was created, which ultimately can only be seen when watching the projected film while wearing glasses with polarized lenses. Special effects and computer generation were also employed to create the ultimate effect. In order to insert computer generated backgrounds at a later time, the director filmed some scenes in front of a “green screen”, a technique used very often in Hollywood’s action films. Later, during the editing process, the director can insert a wide variety of backgrounds and effects making the environment limited only to the imagination of the creative team.

All of the elements work together to create a dynamic film experience, which enhances the traditional components of the musical production. However, it’s not easy to make a seamless transition from live action to film. “The ultimate goal is to create something that has continuity with what is happening on stage, but adds drama and suspense in a way that only film language can offer - the thrill of things flying out of the screen and accomplishing a response,” added Napier.

The 3D film is not the only new element added to Starlight Express. This production will feature new material expressly written for this tour. Lloyd Webber is updating the original score with Tony Award nominated composer of The Full Monty, David Yazbek. The two are co-writing songs that are inspired by today’s hottest pop music acts including Justin Timberlake, Destiny’s Child and Ricky Martin to name a few.

In addition to the new music, the show will also feature a new set. The set is centered around a “half-pipe” and an unrivaled lighting and special effects system with more that 1,400 color, pyrotechnics, lasers and optic effects. The set was designed by the production’s original designer, John Napier, the Tony Award winning designer of Cats and Les Miserables.

Starlight Express opened in London on March 27, 1984 and closed on January 12, 2002 after almost an 18 year run in the West End. It is second only to Cats as the longest running musical in British Theatre history. The show went on to achieve international success with additional productions on Broadway, in Las Vegas, Japan, Australia, and in Bochum, Germany where it is still playing after over 14 years.

Dinner show packages are available for Starlight Express at the Grand Casino Box Office. The Casual Dinner Package includes a show ticket and dinner at the Marketplace Buffet, Roxy’s Diner, Corky’s BBQ or Islandview Café and the Gourmet Dinner Package includes a show ticket and dinner at Brulo’s or Chopstix (all dinners are set menus except for the buffet). The Casual Dinner package for Starlight Express is $36.95 with the Gourmet Dinner package $54.90.

Room and show packages are also available. Package includes room and tax for one night plus two general admission balcony seat tickets. Prices are $133 midweek and $199 weekend. Package is subject to availability, advance reservations are required; based on double occupancy. Seating is general admission at time of arrival. A credit card is required upon booking. Call 1-800-354-2450 for reservations and availability.

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