Starmania

Tagged: Music

Canadian album and musical (1978). Music by Michel Berger, lyrics by Luc Plamondon. Original cast included Daniel Balavoine, Claude Dubois, Diane Dufresne, Eric Esteve, France Gall, René Joly, Grégory Ken, Fabienne Thibault and Nanette Workman.

Francophone musical, originally released in France and Quebec as a double album, Starmania: ou la passion de Johnny Rockfort selon les évangiles télévisé ["Starmania: or the passion of Johnny Rockfort according to the televised gospels"], in which form critics found its concept, shorn of interstitial explanation, hard to comprehend. It subsequently premiered in France a year later as a musical, Starmania, thereby revealing the sf plot that linked the songs: an allegory of the Media Landscape, in which a Near Future business tycoon, Zéro Janvier (Dubois) runs for political office, thereby pitting himself against the revolutionary Johnny Rockfort (Balavoine), who is in fact a pawn of the aristocrat Sadia (Workman), who disguises herself as a commoner in order to manipulate the masses. While the setting is a deeply symbolic City, in which the rich dwell in a golden tower above an underclass that meets in a literal "underground cafe", the action revolves around affairs of the heart and crimes of passion.

Johnny falls in love with Cristal (Gall), the television presenter who becomes his mouthpiece in the media, causing the jealous Sadia to reveal to Zéro that Johnny's Black Star terrorist group is planning a bombing campaign. A tragic ending awaits, along with a heavy-handed message about the dangers of both terrorism and totalitarianism, and two other doomed couplings among the cast, including the love of Zéro for the fading starlet Stella Spotlight (Dufresne), and that of the Robot waitress Marie-Jeanne (Thibault) for the David Bowie-inspired record producer Ziggy (Ken). Herself something of a call-back to the original robot girl, Maria from Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1926), Marie-Jeanne became the musical's literal break-out character, embarking in the finale in a quest for betterment on the surface world, but also singing one of the musical's independently successful songs, "Complainte de la serveuse automate" ["Lament of a Robot Waitress"].

An English translation of the musical, with lyrics by Tim Rice, was performed as Tycoon (1992), running in some venues as an alternate version of the French original; a cast album was released as Starmania: version anglais. Several of the songs from Rice's version became novelty hits in the French-speaking world, including "The World is Stone" [trans of "Le Monde est Stone"] for Cyndi Lauper and "Tonight We Dance, Extravagance!" for Céline Dion, which deftly removed the original's reference to its totalitarian nightclub setting, "Ce soir on danse à Naziland". Dion would have one of her biggest hits in France with a cover version of "Un garcon pas comme les autres", a ballad in which Marie-Jeanne obliquely comments on Ziggy's homosexuality.

Revived on multiple occasions in its native Quebec, but also in Paris and in several Francophone performances in Russia, Starmania is obscure in the English-speaking world, but is arguably the best-known sf rock opera in the French-speaking world. It merits comparison with We Will Rock You (see Ben Elton; Queen) or Rush's 2012. [JonC]

see also: SF Music; Jeff Wayne.

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