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Eccentric steampunk operetta “L’Etoile” performing at the Musical Arts Center


The ensemble performs the opening song in "L'étoile." The opera will play at the Musical Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13, 14, 20 and 21. Marlie Bruns

Larger-than-life personalities — and wigs — are coming in French operetta “L’Etoile,” which runs from Oct. 13 to Oct. 21 at the Musical Arts Center. Tickets start at $12 for students.

“L’Etoile,” which means “the star” in French, follows King Ouf as he prepares to perform his annual birthday execution. He quickly realizes he is astrologically linked to the peddler he’s chosen for the chopping block, so if the peddler dies, the king dies, too.

“It sounds a bit gloomy and dark, but it’s very funny and silly,” Alain Gauthier, stage director, said. “It’s very absurd.”

At two hours and 15 minutes long, the farcical operetta portrays its humor as much with crucial miscommunication and disguises as it does with subtle humor, props and contraptions.

Darian Clonts, Anna Farley and Jeremy Weiss pose as Tiffany Choe stands on suitcases to sing in "L'étoile." The opera will play at the Musical Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 13, 14, 20 and 21. Marlie Bruns

“In this particular show, everyone’s a little bigger than life,” Vincent Festa, the singer playing King Ouf, said. “Sometimes what we say is ridiculous, and it sounds a little crazy, but I think that the subtlety in some of the humor is very French.”

Written in 1877, “L’Etoile” is unconventional in that the operetta includes dialogue along with singing and music. 

“It’s almost like a musical, because there are musical numbers and there are scenes that are spoken,” Gauthier said. “It requires a different technique and different way of approaching the voice.”

This isn’t Gauthier’s first time working on “L’Etoile.” He has produced the operetta in Montreal, Cincinnati, Austin and New York City before coming to produce it in Bloomington. 

Gauthier said he wanted something completely different in terms of aesthetic and feel for this production. What he and scenic designer Tim McMath came up with was an eccentric steampunk set and costume design.

“The period of the operetta’s creation inspired me a lot for the concept of the show,” Gauthier said. “We have this beautiful mix of end of 19th century and beginning of the 20th kind of aesthetic, but everything is pink and purple. It’s a bit crazy.”

Almost every character in the production wears a powdered French wig. Festa said he, as King Ouf, wears gold tights, pink socks and a jacket, and that other characters wear wigs and have baroque outfits as well.

“It’s very rococo steampunk,” Festa said. “My wig probably weighs about 10 pounds. It better stay on.”

Through the humor and outrageous set design, themes of love, time and destiny are present. King Ouf rushes to marry Princess Laoula when he believes his death looms near, only to realize later that maybe they were not meant to marry. 

“The elements of the story are classic, but the way it’s told is very original musically and even in the libretto,” Gauthier said. “It’s kind of a love story linked with destiny but in a silly and funny way.”

The style of music in “L’Etoile” is beautiful and understandable for an audience, Festa said. It carries many French motifs and themes.

“This music is very light, very easy to listen to, but it’s not too simple to be boring,” Gauthier said. “Each scene lasts about two or three minutes, so you can never get bored.”

With French humor, dialogue and music, Festa said this story is just what everyone needs.

“You come to the theater to be transported somewhere else, and you will be transported somewhere else coming to this show,” Festa said.

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