At the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore responds to a question from Harry saying: “Of course it is happening inside your head Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” And this is how Lazarus feels by the end.
Although billed as a musical, the somewhat abstract storyline and production coupled with inspired design and heavy-weight acting definitely makes this a play with music. The show features songs by Bowie, as well as some new ones specifically written in, but it is not a frivolous jukebox musical. It’s something much more profound and occasionally, experienced on a emotional level rather than as a passive viewer. It’s been labelled by some as ‘pretentious’ which is unfair. Of course a ‘musical’ by Bowie working with writer Enda Walsh was never going to be anything like Jersey Boys or The Band and boundary pushing within the genre is always extremely welcome.
Lazarus is ‘inspired’ by The Man Who Fell To Earth, a 1963 book by Walter Tevis, later made into a movie starring David Bowie as Thomas Jerome Newton.
Newton is a humanoid alien who has come to Earth in search of a way to send water to his home planet, which is experiencing severe drought. He becomes caught in a cycle of human vices, pining for a lost love. A very rich man, refugeed from a home he cannot return to, who cannot die, cannot age and is left alone in his own personal hell.
‘In this sleep of death what dreams may come,’ Newton breathes at one point, echoing Hamlet’s difficulties and isolation, although death ironically being apparently unachievable. It’s one of a few literary references throughout the show which at times echoes A Christmas Carol – one of the main characters indeed being a ghost named Marley.
Lazarus is a follow up to the original story. You don’t have to have seen the movie or read the book because key themes are referenced as part of the backstory.
Michael C. Hall gives a charismatic performance as Newton. He doesn’t go with an English accent and neither does he produce a carbon copy of Bowie or his singing. It’s a deep and physical performance with a flavour of Bowie’s delivery in his vocals and he’s absolutely mesmerising.
During Killing A Little Time, we end up with two Michael C. Halls on stage, which is an incredible moment care of set designer Jan Versweyveld and Video Designer Tal Yarden’s brilliant projections.
Projection is a heavily used feature throughout the show. At times it gives us an odd disconnect – watching pre-recorded action on a screen on stage which is also being acted live and watched by Newton creates a timey-wimey dream like feel.
I’ve read a few online interpretations of the poignant ending of Lazarus. Does he die? Does he make it home? It feels more like a one hour fifty minute descent into psychotic depression whereupon the release comes from a full retreat from the real world.
As audience members, we are experiencing that transition alongside Newton. Although he is still anchored in the reality of his life, he is also being pulled away from this until that reality blurs into his fantasy.
Well-known songs take on new meaning within the context of the story. Amy Lennox as Elly, Newton’s personal assistant, gives a stunning and sometimes quite violent rendition of Changes, whilst the character undergoes her own transition. And Sophia Anne Caruso gave a stunning performance as the enigmatic yet vulnerable Girl.
Lazarus was performed at Kings Cross Theatre from 25 October 2016 – 22 January 2017. The recording was taken for archive purposes though given a limited released as a digital stream from 08-10 January 2021 as both a celebration of David Bowie’s birthday and fifth anniversary of his death.
For more information about the show, visit: https://lazarusmusical.com/
For the final stream of Lazarus: https://dice.fm/event/qk36y-lazarus-by-david-bowie-enda-walsh-uk-ire-1500-gmt-10th-jan-uk-ire-1500-gmt-london-tickets