It was really no surprise that Lazarus, the musical composed by David Bowie and Enda Walsh, sold out in a matter of hours when it debuted on Broadway in 2014. Even less surprising is the gravity it then held after Bowie’s death, as his final musical gift following his iconic career. There was further excitement still, when in November 2016, the show crossed the Atlantic for a three-month spell at the King’s Cross Theatre.
Bowie famously starred as the humanoid alien, Thomas Jerome Newton, in the film adaptation of Walter Tevis’ The Man Who Fell to Earth. Originally seeking water for his own planet from Earth, Newton amasses great wealth but is eventually discovered as an alien and experimented on by the American government. Lazarus follows on from the film, with Michael C. Hall (of Dexter fame) taking on Newton, drinking his days away on gin, broken, and unable to return home.
Obviously, Bowie’s music—both much-loved classics and songs written especially for Lazarus—was the focal point of the show. However, with twenty songs in less than two hours and a complicated plot, it was more like a musical concert with an obscured storyline.
That being said, the music itself was fantastic: covers of classic Bowie songs such as ‘Changes’ were not just emulations, they were reimagined for the performer. Bowie played a big part in the casting, and in creating the fresh interpretations of his own music. The 15 year-old Sophia Anne Caruso particularly stood out as The Girl, an ethereal character whose mature, clear vocals and complete innocence of character contrasted brilliantly to Michael C. Hall’s depraved Thomas Newton.
The use of a screen in the centre of the stage was effective. It was used in a variety of ways: to show live close-ups of characters lying on the floor, to add depth to the stage, and to show scenes from the original film, with characters on stage mirroring similar events. This was brilliant design on the otherwise minimalistic stage: not just for the practical reason that a large theatre can swallow up finer details of a performance, but also as a creative way to add to the hallucinatory theme of the show.
The plot has received a lot of mixed reviews from critics. I found that, leaving the theatre, I was totally unable to explain what I had seen to anybody. The production was hard to follow, and some of the more climactic moments towards the end were weakened because the logic of what led to that moment was unclear.
Similarly, the incorporation of characters from the original The Man Who Fell to Earth seemed to have no real purpose besides novelty, and it deviated from the primary impetus of the storyline. However, with Newton as the protagonist in a delusional mental state, the confusing plot is ultimately a reflection of his mind: and what could be more Bowie than a psychedelic, and equally unfathomable character?