|Rusty the steamer
Nyaww, we all love the underdog who triumphs in the end, don't we? Rusty's story is the story of Starlight Express, and is not entirely unpredictable - Engine meets Carriage, Engine loses Carriage to bigger, faster Engine, Engine is back-stabbed by his friend. But he learns to believe in himself and gets the Carriage in the end. yay.
Early reviews of Starlight Express read a sub-plot about racism into the show- Rusty, played by a black actor, finding the strength from Poppa, played by a black actor, to overthrow the oppressive Greaseball, played by a white actor, and Electra, who was err.. also black. never mind. In the history of the show, Rusty has been played by such a variety of actors such as blond, feminine Bobby Collins, Arabic Koffi Missah, Asian Rommel Singson and the black creator of the role, Ray Shell. And all these different actors have played the sweet little steamer convincingly.
Rusty's costume is engineered to reflect his character more than his status as the lead role in the musical. As his name would suggest, he's all in browns and black, with details that are inspired by steam engines. Most obviously is his glowing heart- while I'm no expert on train anatomy, I recognise the doors which open to allow coal to feed the fire which heats the boiler. As well as the obvious "train" references in his costume, he also has influences from the uniform of a train driver, overalls and cap, and a sense of being striped beneath all the decoration. Rusty's backpack is his coal tender, and in some productions is it wired to light up, so the coal glows. I'd be a bit worried if I were a steam engine and my coal supply had caught fire, but it never seems to bother Rusty...
As the show has developed, Rusty has gained and lost songs regularly. My favourite is "Engine Of Love", the song which was the seed from which Starlight Express grew. Originally written by Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1977, I believe, for a singer who could reproduce the triad whistle of a steam train, it was not included in the Original London production. However the melody was used as "He Whistled At Me". When the show went to Broadway in 1987, "He Whistled" was replaced by the far less exciting "Make Up My Heart", however the melody was recycled, with "Engine Of Love" replacing "Call Me Rusty" as Rusty's introduction. "Engine of Love" is much lighter and more upbeat than "Call Me Rusty", introducing us to a young steam train who is somewhat dillusional, as opposed to depressed and repressed.
The relationship between Rusty and Pearl is the central romantic theme in the show. Depending on the production, we are given more or less suggestion of the past between these two characters. Rusty says "Pearl, you said you'd go (race) with me" making it clear that they were going to race together, but any deeper relationship than this is not specified. On Broadway and in Bochum it is suggested that they have an innocent "sweethearts" relationship, whereas in london it appeared they had only recently met and chosen to race together.
Is Poppa Rusty's father? While they are both steam trains, I believe they are not actually related. If anything, I think Pearl is Poppa's daughter, certainly in an adoptive family setting, and Poppa engineers the whole races to get a nice young man for his silly girl. But there as many theories as there are StEx fans!
The 20th anniversary book celebrated the "changing styles" of Rusty over the years with portraits of every Rusty since 1988. Some interesting photo choices.
Kevin Kohler won the role of Rusty in a TV talent show in 2008. He's really, really good!
Surprisingly, perhaps, Rusty rarely features in print promotions for the show, perhaps because his drab brown costume doesn't glow and sparkle the way others do to catch attention!