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Arlene 'will never walk away' from Starlight

By Herald Express  |  Posted: January 10, 2013

  • Starlight Express: Amanda Coutts as Pearl and Kristofer Harding as Rusty Eric Richmond

  • Director and choreographer: Arlene Phillips

  • judge: From left, Craig Revel Horwood, Arlene Phillips, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing

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CREATIVE is Arlene Phillips' middle name. As a choreographer, director, TV show judge and clothing and jewellery designer, she has many strings to her bow.

Her career took off when she created the dance group Hot Gossip in the 1970s and since then her reputation has landed her work on various stage shows.

Her first major stage success was choreographing the hit musical Starlight Express in the early 1980s.

It is still going strong and comes to the Princess Theatre, Torquay, from Tuesday, January 15, to 26.

Over the years she's tweaked the choreography and helped the production move with the times, so theatregoers come back time after time.

She said that one of her biggest challenges was teaching the cast how to dance wearing rollerskates — a wow factor that the show is famous for.

"Doing everything that's required for an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is difficult enough with the acting and dancing and then adding in the aspect of skating was a huge task," she said.

"We really had to think about what dance moves would work on skates. When I originally worked on Starlight, I choreographed most of it on skates but over time the choreography got more difficult and the skating more brilliant and advanced, I'm on my skates less and less now," said Arlene who is in her late 60s.

"The show has had a number of revamps. On the current tour, there are changes to the choreography, the musical arrangements and they've added in new songs," she said.

She said at first, as the show was so unique, it was difficult to cast.

"Lots of rollerskaters auditioned but they were not great actors," said Arlene.

"Then we had actors audition who couldn't skate. Eventually, we got it right through trial and error. We also have a skate guru which has helped us have success with the production all around the world.

"I have a real affection for it and I shall never ever want to walk away from it. I love it so much."

The skaters have four weeks of rehearsals and a short technical rehearsal before they go live in the musical.

"It has always been a show for all generations," she said.

"It seems to have something in it for everyone. It has the racing, thrills and the sport element which attracts the boys and men.

"There is also the wonderful music from ballads to hip hop for music lovers.

"The show has been running constantly somewhere in the world since 1984 and never seems to let the audiences down.

"The remarkable thing is that on this tour, the audience has become very involved and have been calling out to the performers and scream when the actors are racing in certain scenes. It's a great interactive show now."

As well as working on Starlight Express, she's also choreographed Flashdance, The Sound of Music, Grease, We Will Rock You, Saturday Night Fever, Joseph, Jesus Christ Superstar and many other renowned shows.

The dance whiz has also choreographed music videos for the likes of The Bee Gees, Duran Duran, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Freddie Mercury, Queen and many more.

"Elton John has been my favourite act to work with on a music video," she said.

"He's got such a zest for life and a passion for what he does that every moment you are with him makes you want to work harder and harder.

"I did lots of videos with him, but the one which is probably most well know is I'm Still Standing. It's never off the music channels. I'm very proud."

To broaden her horizons she's also designed jewellery and clothing lines for brand Marisota.

"It was an opportunity that came to me and I've always loved fashion and obsessed with style. I got the chance and thought why not try it and I've enjoyed it.

"It's just another extension of my creative side."

Arlene was also on our screens as an original judge on the BBC's hit TV show Strictly Come Dancing.

"I didn't watch the most recent series as I've been in Toronto filming Over The Rainbow, a show to find a new Dorothy in the musical Wizard of Oz. I also choreographed the show which opened recently.

"I've been so busy, I've barely been in London towards the end of 2012."

Now back in the UK, there's no time to relax as she's involved in the show Midnight Tango, which opens shortly in London's Phoenix Theatre with Strictly Come Dancing professional dancers Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace.

"My new year's resolution is to take time off as I could do with it," she joked.

"I also want to keep myself in good shape mentally and physically."

DAWN ELLIS

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