Electric role is a real roller-coaster
HE might only have got Christmas Day off last month, but Mykal Rand really enjoyed the festive period.
The actor, who is playing Electra in the new touring show of Starlight Express, got to spend his time with his "close-knit family".
"We are all really close in this production, as some of us have known each other for many years," he said. "So although we were working, we were also spending time with friends, which is what Christmas is all about. And we did get a few days off over New Year.
Mykal is making a return to the role of Electra in the new touring production, which started in May last year.
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He has played the part many times before in London, as well as in places like Germany and Japan. It is a role he loves, but one which is also very hard work.
He spends his time on stage dressed as a train, whizzing around on skates in one of the heaviest and most cumbersome outfits in West End history.
It's a tribute to his athleticism and roller skating prowess that he makes it look so effortless.
"Yes, I can confirm it is very hard work," said the dancer, who has been in six different productions of Andrew Lloyd Webber's locomotive spectacle since he first joined the cast in 1987.
"Electra is the baddie, which is a great role to play. He is also a very flamboyant character, which I love."
When the latest touring production arrives at the Princess Theatre in Torquay later this month, he'll be strapping on the bright red shoulder pads and centurion-like plumed helmet of the "engine of the future".
"The outfits are incredibly heavy. In fact, I'd say they were much heavier now than they used to be. But maybe that's something to do with the fact I'm 20 years older than when I first joined the show. But don't tell anyone," he said.
"It's a very demanding and tiring production and usually, after my main number, I just want to crash on the floor.
"Sometimes you can't wait to get off stage for an opportunity to get some water or an energy drink and then just get ready for your next entrance.
"We are all effectively finely-tuned athletes," he says, grinning.
"You have to be or you'd never last. We'll regularly be down the gym during the day – and we even have our own nutritionist to make sure we're eating the right things.
"Honestly, it's like preparing for the Olympics. But if it looks great for the audience, that's all that matters."
Being the veteran "father of the cast" has some advantages for Mykal.
As well as starring on stage, he has attained the rank of associate director, helping to choreograph different sections in the show – meaning he sits out one performance every week and watches it from the stalls – just to make sure everyone else is still on track.
"It's such a brilliant cast there's not a lot to tinker with," he says.
"So far we're getting a great response for the audiences, so we must be doing something right.
"We are really looking forward to coming down to Devon. It is just a pity that the weather won't be warmer while we are at the seaside."
Andrew Lloyd Webber's smash hit show Starlight Express has been wowing audiences since it first chugged on to the West End stage in 1984.
It has toured regularly since then and each time it goes out on the road it is updated and refreshed.
"When it was first performed it was way ahead of its time. But you can't continue with the same show for nearly three decades," said Mykal.
"So each time it goes on tour Arlene Phillips revamps it slightly to make sure it is bang up to date.
"I have worked with Arlene on this show and we have added new songs and characters and lots of new technology.
"It's a real family spectacular for everyone to enjoy.
"It is kind of a Cinderella story," said Mykal.
"It's about a little boy who, at the beginning of the show, has been told by his mum to stop playing with his train set and go to bed. When he falls asleep, his trains come to life in his dream.
"He takes them on this railroad race across America, and the show focuses on these world champion engines and the carriages which race with them.
"I play a brand new state-of-the-art electric engine, who is a late entry to the race. Electra looks like a rock star and is accompanied by his wild entourage."
The whole show is performed at break-neck speed on rollerskates, a feat which looks hugely impressive but, says Mykal, can cause problems behind the scenes.
"The awe-inspiring skating just amazes people, but it's a very hard technique to master.
"I've been skating since I was four, so this is the ideal show for me. But for someone who hasn't skated before, it's a very difficult discipline to learn."
The show is known and loved for its speed, spectacle and turbocharged excitement. In the original London production the skaters used to race around special tracks in the middle of the audience. On tour they have a different way of taking the action off the stage.
"We use 3D," said Mykal. "We have a giant screen and the audience wear their 3D glasses for the roller-racing action.
"It really works well and the audience love it – especially the youngsters. They really feel they are part of the action – which is what this show is all about."
Starlight Express plays at Torquay's Princess Theatre from January 15 until the 26. Ticket details: 0844 871 3023