a personal review. Kings Cross Theatre. 3rd November 2016
I told my friend I was going to Lazarus, the David Bowie Musical. She of course looked thrilled and excited for me. “Amazing” she said.
I retorted, “He’s not in it!”
We guffawed; there was some nervous laughter, and guilt. Too Soon? Of course, Too Soon. Certainly Too Soon for me. But the comedy timing was admirable.
The show is playing Kings Cross theatre, bang in the middle of the new thrilling and confusing, unfamiliar and rather jolly. Boulevard. The theatre, a purpose built shed structure, divided in two, one half showing The Tempest (which was Tempting) and the half other Lazarus.
The audience was as you would expect, well healed, nicely dressed, or Dressed Up, with a touch of fervor behind the eyes. Mostly middle aged, some young, a lot of cool and classy.
We are told that the performance is two hours long. No interval. You can leave but you may not be allowed back in (okay, not for 20mins or so). So this led to a “when do we pee” panic – could explain the fervor in the eyes.
As we settle in our seats, we see Michael C Hall wander on to stage and have a little lie down. This is twenty minutes before ShowTime. It is a little awkward. I feel for him, unless maybe it really is the best place for a power nap.
The premise is a loose sequel to Man Who Fell to Earth. Our alien is still trapped on earth, , not getting older, drinking gin, watching TV, knowing that he can’t get home. He misses Mary-Lou and indeed it would have been nice to see Candy Clark.
The set is the apartment that Thomas Newton never leaves.
The physical propping consists of a rumpled bed and a fridge full of mother’s ruin.
At the back of the stage, the live band play displayed through glass windows.
Centre stage, a screen. Sometimes lots of screens. I thought I was over screens. But I am an idiot.
The projection and visual trickery is incredible, impressive, remarkable. I won’t describe how it works so as not to spoil the surprise and awe. Also, I can’t find the words to get across quite how exhilarating.
I can say there is technical wizardly. The FX are seamless, delightful and surprising. The design is impeccable, the execution effortless. Virtual, physical, ever shifting. A feast for the eyes and ears. Lighting design to delight, that also does a job.
It was actually raining on the roof which added some pretty special atmosphere.
The whole thing is Magic in a digital literate age.
I had read that this wasn’t the Mama Mia Greatest Hits genre of musical, that the story wasn’t a way to thread a load of songs together.
But it kind of was. Certainly the songs enhanced and punctuated the narrative.
Maybe it is just that Bowie’s oeuvre is so rich, all his songs can work to whatever storyline.
The opening track, the heartbreaking Lazarus, was beautifully performed. When it was released in back in sad Blackstar January, we all retrospectively understood it was about Bowie’s upcoming death. Johan Renck’s visuals enforced that. Now, not so sure.
Now it sounds like it was written specifically for Thomas Newton’s not-old age.
And that is another wonderful Bowie facet. Whatever he writes, you can find some significance that works for you at the time. Lyrics and mood appropriate and ready for anything.
“Kooks” targeted directly at you because you were a different kind of kid.
“Heroes” for our brave troupes.
“Laughing Gnome” a piece of ironic future proofing theme for Alan Sugar.
“Sue” for me!
Predictably, all the songs were phenomenal. The new ones, the old ones reworked, the classics and the novelty. From a raucous All the Young Dudes to a charming Absolute Beginners. Changes , changed, all for the good.
Somehow all the vocalists captured Bowie’s tone. They never quite made the songs their own, but nor did they mimic. Clear and strong and meaningful. But it is a funny old thing, how singers on the stage take on that Musical style. It was subtle, but it was there, and made me wonder how they would fare on The Voice.
After we were introduced to a China Girl early on, I realised that the staging was littered with references and reverence. I probably missed quite a lot, but that didn’t spoil the ride. Good spotting for the uber hard-core fans, rather than me, kind of superfan, but soft-centred.
The story is a bit silly. The characters are fascinating and often confusing. The pace erratic. Great highs of engagement, sometimes not so much, and there is a proper ending.
Maybe if it wasn’t The Dame I might view the whole as a touch self-indulgent and beside itself. Perhaps I have buttons over my eyes and stardust in my sound and vision. But I don’t think so.
There is so much good and clever and original and slick and powerful and emotional and so damn interesting about it. There are some great moments of levity to stop it taking itself too seriously. The cast do it more than justice, the set design and execution is off the scale. And of course the music.
So I think it would stand alone on its own merits.
At the Centre of it All is…