A recording of ‘Lazarus’ at the Kings Cross Theatre will be streamed for three performances only in January 2021 to mark David Bowie’s seventy-fourth birthday (Jan 8) and the fifth anniversary of his death. Tickets can be purchased here.
This review is from 2016.
A wealthy recluse, dying but somehow not dead, sits atop his New York tower, hallucinating his past and the music of David Bowie.
If it was difficult to see where Thomas Jerome Newton, the stranded alien protagonist of the 1976 film ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ ended, and Bowie – who played him – began, then that goes double for its musical sequel, ‘Lazarus’.
Co-written by Enda Walsh and Bowie, ‘Lazarus’ catches up with Newton (Michael C Hall) in the present day, as he morosely drinks gin in his featureless apartment. There is little actual plot, but a sense of events finally comes to a head, as Newton’s hope and despair become manifested as ingénue the Girl (Sophia Anne Caruso) and the psychotic Valentine (Michael Esper). Meanwhile his new PA, Elly (Amy Lennox), finds her personality is being overwritten by that of Thomas’s lost love, Mary-Lou.
Ivo van Hove’s claustrophobic production is more like a mood than a story, a homage to Nicholas Roeg’s hallucinatory film, but also, perhaps, a window into the near-decade of seclusion that followed Bowie’s withdrawal from public life in 2004.
Does this make it a good musical? I dunno: it’s weirdly caught between aggressive artiness and a certain triteness. If you haven’t seen – and liked – the film, you’ll quite possibly be totally at sea here. If you do love its brooding vibes, you may cringe at a couple of moments where its icy aloofness is punctured by overly sincere, ‘X Factor’-style performances of a couple of numbers.
However, I can’t help but feel it shouldn’t be viewed as just a musical. Even if he’d lived, Bowie had apparently sworn off further live shows, and I would guess ‘Lazarus’ was part-conceived as a substitute. Almost none of the songs – even the four moody new ones – feel integral to the plot, and could probably be swapped for something else without really changing the feel of the show. But as a concert setlist it makes perfect sense. Played by a live band and directed by a man famous for his love of rock music, it’s roughly 50/50 ‘new’ material (drawing partly on 2013 comeback album ‘The Next Day’) and classics that fit the elegiac mood (‘Life on Mars?’, ‘Absolute Beginners’, stripped down takes on ‘Changes’ and ‘”Heroes”’).
Unlike Bowie’s towering final album ‘Blackstar’, ‘Lazarus’ is a flawed work. But I can’t help but love it, in the same way I love ‘Outside’ and ‘Reality’ and all those other flawed latter-day Bowie records. In no small part that’s down to Hall, magnificently other as the depressed immortal, and with a powerful vibrato that sounds uncannily like Bowie’s. But more than that, and casting objectivity to the wind, I feel moved by the very existence of ‘Lazarus’, which feels like Bowie’s final tour, testament and eccentric project all wrapped into one. It is not a valedictory romp through his greatest hits, but something rarer, more interesting and more frustrating: a last transmission from a dying star.