France’s most famous ‘rock opera’ opened in 1979 but a new generation of theatre-goers is now discovering how topical it still is.
Starmania’s story is complex, dark and dramatic, and it is set in a dystopian future.
It combines themes of politics, activism, terrorism, and several doomed love stories, as well as globalisation, obsession with television celebrity, and sexual and gender ambiguity.
Household name in France
The show is a household name in France and some six million people here and abroad have seen it.
Its creator, popular composer Michel Berger, who died of a heart attack aged 44, in 1992, insisted on the term opéra rock, saying it was not a comédie musicale.
In English, both can be referred to as a musical, but a ‘rock opera’ is specifically a performance with no spoken text.
Certainly no ‘comedy’ – most of the main characters die – much of Starmania’s enduring fame is down to good songs.
Its hit songs include SOS d’un terrien en détresse, Le Blues du Businessman and Le Monde est Stone.
The latter is called The World is Stone in the show’s English translation, and was a hit for Céline Dion, who reprised several songs from it.
The new show is the first major French production this century and aims to return more closely to the original hit after various adaptations and cuts in versions between the 1980s and 2001.
Reintroduction of a green activist character
One change hailed as especially relevant today is the reintroduction of a green activist character le Gourou Marabout.
Berger’s son Raphaël Hamburger has produced the new version, directed by Thomas Jolly, the organiser of the opening ceremony for Paris 2024 Olympics.
Luc Plamondon, the original writer, was also involved. According to Mr Hamburger, the aim was to give the show back “all its tragic profundity”.
Mr Jolly said they were “guided by the will to shine a spotlight on everything Starmania has to say about our society”.
He said they had updated the text, which was “visionary and still very relevant today”.
They also reordered songs to improve the clarity of the story.
Starmania is in Paris’s La Seine Musicale until the end of January and then tours major cities in France, as well as Brussels and Geneva.