|Poppa the Old Steamer
Poppa is the wise old steam engine, who's too old to work anymore, so spends his time hanging out in the freight yard, singing the blues... It is Poppa who encourages Rusty to race, and then races himself to secure a place for Steam. But the effort of racing, especially partnered by Dustin, is too much for the old engine, and he collapses, unable to continue. Rusty must take his place...
In the original production, Poppa had his own coach, Belle, who raced with Rusty in Heat two. When Poppa came to race in Heat three, Belle had already been disqualified by losing with Rusty, so he raced with Dustin instead. In later productions, the other freight refuse outright to race with Poppa, except enthusiastic Dustin...
There are several theories about Poppa and his relations. The obvious assumption is that Poppa is Rusty's "father", as they are both Steam Trains. I, however, think it more logical that Poppa is "father" to Pearl - And he doesn't like the boyfriends the young hussy is getting, so encourages the sweet and good-natured Rusty to win the race, and her Heart.
Is Poppa the Starlight Express? Does he pretend to be the Starlight Express, to change Rusty's mind? Or is the Starlight Express a completely separate entity, portrayed onstage by the same actor? We asked Trevor Michael Georges, playing Poppa in london at the time, and his answer was "It's whatever you think it is". Profound.
|There have not been many actors capable of playing Poppa over the years, and once an actor joins the show, he's likely to play the role multiple times, across different productions. The role demands a spectacular, deep, rich singing voice, maturity and gravitas, combined with the athleticism to skate and race. While compared with other roles in the show, Poppa skates relatively little, it's still not an easy role to play. Often an alternate Poppa is also cast, who had a set number of shows a week in the lead role, plus understudying when required.
There have been occasions when, due to illness and injury, there simply has not been an actor to play Poppa. In emergencies like this, in london, a few phonecalls resulted in an ex-cast member coming back for one night only. On another occasion, the actor playing Poppa was taken ill just before the end of the show. He had been fine right through to singing the Starlight Sequence, then, five minutes before Poppa's final entry, he could not continue. His understudy, having been watching the show, had already left the theatre to get a drink at the bar before the rush, and was called back to go on. He had less than 5 minutes to get into full costume, skates, and onstage for Poppa's Entrance "Where's Rusty Gone?" after the final race. As he skated on he was still pulling on his second glove, but it was simply an amazing feat to get onstage so fast!
Poppa may not be the most glamourous or sexy of the StEx characters, but he is the essential core of the plot and the music.