LAZARUS | London, King’s Cross Theatre

In this obscure and disturbing David Bowie jukebox musical, it may not come as a surprise that no one is called Lazarus, and there’s no ostensible resurrection. The entire musical was David Bowie’s idea (along with the title), and opened Off-Broadway in December 2015, just a month before Bowie died in January 2016. The musical’s opening song Lazarusalso features on Bowie’s final album Blackstar, released just two days before Bowie died. Clearly, the musical was of huge artistic importance to Bowie.

Thomas Jerome Newton is The Man Who Fell To Earth, the alien that stays on earth too long, iconically portrayed by Bowie in the 1976 film. Lazarus is, in a sense, the sequel. Michael C. Hall portrays the character very differently, almost like an aristocratic drunken fop translated to 21st century New York, but with a constant balletic grace and the most aesthetic of anguished faces, as madness consumes him and the audience too cannot distinguish between what’s narrative and what’s allegorical. Hall, who has worked in musical theatre for decades (despite being better known for his TV work), makes Newton sing in a powerful and distinctly Bowie-esque voice.

Directed by Ivo Van Hove, the whole show feels more like a music video than a musical, with disorientating projections sometimes interacting with the unpleasant characters and narrative. Bare feet on clean beige surfaces makes us feel like we are watching a train wreck unfold on hallowed ground, which is something of a Van Hove trope. (Without wishing to give spoilers, neither is this the only Van Hove trope.) David Bowie’s iconic songs have been reimagined, including a swing version of Changes and a breathtaking, personal rendition of Life On Mars by renowned baby-faced actress Sophia Anne Caruso.

At the end, the audience erupted in a standing ovation, but was this for the alienating work on stage or for David Bowie’s original songs and vision? For a work of theatre, the entire show feels very filmic, with dizzying visuals and music taking precedence over a clear or satisfying story, and structured with explicit reference to the original film ofThe Man Who Fell To Earth and Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Bowie fans may find themselves enthralled to see a three dimensional work, though newcomers may not feel much more than repulsed and confused.
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