In 1979 the French futuristic rock-opera - Starmania, created by Michel Berger (composer) and Luc Plamondon (librettist), premiered in Paris.

Forty-five years have passed since then. And now it is the very time to which the show sent its viewer according to the creators’ plan. The legendary rock-opera is lighting up the sky once again. In 2023, a new version of it was launched in France, timed to coincide with the 45th anniversary of the stage premiere. And the show is currently on tour.

We spoke to the musical director and arranger of the newest revival, composer – Victor le Masne.

When Starmania was written, Michel Berger and Luc Plamondon were trying to create the sound of the future. What we hear in the new arrangements is very contemporary – it’s techno, pop-rock, rock. Do you perceive it as “the sound of the future”?
I can’t say “yes, this is the sound of the future”, but this is the music that was written in the past so there are some little hints of what the future could be when you’re in 1979, I’d say it’s initially retro-futuristic. I see the rock-opera through my eyes in 2024 but I was also inspired by the music of the 80s. I kept thinking: “What would Michel Berger do next?” I’m the arranger and not the composer in this case – I wanted to invite the listeners into Michel Berger’s updated futuristic world.

What is the most futuristic part of the new Starmania?
There is so much of the future, that we’ve embraced today already compared to the original version of 1979, some of the aspects of it are already very vivid and true today, good and bad. I hope that the future won’t be as “depressing” as we depict it in the show…

Was that done on purpose, to show our contemporary side of life?
I think so. And the fact that the videos are always distorted and desynchronized- that adds to the scariness of Starmania’s world – it shows the falseness and the lack of connection between people, lack of people being linked together…

How did the casting for the show occur?
When I joined the production, the cast was already partially there. The son of Michel Berger – Raphael Hamburger, asked me to check out the performers that they had already chosen with Thomas Jolly (the director), and Luc Plamondon, and the producers. We needed people who felt the rhythm, the melody, because as you know Berger’s compositions are rhythmically and harmonically challenging. And the acting skills are very important here.

There were some pre-recorded tracks and a small number of musicians playing live from somewhere backstage. Is that correct?
I would have loved to have the whole orchestra. But it’s a tour. Sometimes there are no musicians at all. But when we played in Paris for four months, we had live musicians as part of the show and when we come to Montreal – we will have musicians again.

On stage or off-stage?
On both sides of the stage, we put additional spaces for musicians. Usually, it’s the rock band that joins in – two guitars, one cello, one keyboard player, one bassist and one drummer but also, I’ve prerecorded some percussion and added a lot of strings and horn sections.

Will the musicians be playing on top of the prerecorded tracks?
The prerecorded instruments are just the strings, the horns and the digital stuff. But all the songs are performed live.

The ensemble is singing live from backstage and then on stage they primarily dance. Is that true?
Yes, exactly, they sing all the time. When the character is on stage, they sing their parts live and when they go backstage, after they’ve changed, they go into a special “vocal booth”, like a little recording studio, and sing harmonies from there.

What is your favorite song from the show?
Tonight we dance at Naziland – because it’s the first song I’ve worked on. With that song I’ve discovered original tapes of the Starmania recording back when Michel Berger was in New York. The maximalism of it, the creative and crazy choreography by Sidi Cherkaoui, Miriam Baghdassarian as a beautiful badass Sadia in that song… I went as far as I could on the arrangement with my musicians.

If you had an opportunity to ask Michel Berger one question about Starmania what would it be?
I think I would want to find out what was his starting point, which notes, which cord, which song started it all. Because now we know what Starmania has turned into but when you are creating something from scratch you never know what it’s going to be like in 40-50 years. So with this amazing journey of the musical Starmania it would have been interesting to know where it all began musically for Berger and Plamondon.

Photo credit: Anthony Dorfmann