I was not going to review this. Not because it’s not worthy of a review but because I get to see it for the first time a week before it closes in the UK. Believe me, I had known about Lazarus for over a year. Knowing it was first played to a New York audience over a year ago, and was the last public outing for David Bowie before his sad passing. But when something takes your breath away in so many ways, I felt compelled to write a few words.
Lazarus is based on the character from The Man Who Fell To Earth. Thomas Jerome Newton was played by Bowie in the 1970’s film. I have to confess that I have never loved the film. Don’t get me wrong, Bowie looks fabulous in it, but the story-line is never properly executed and I have always felt it was not Bowie’s greatest role. He played himself and the cocaine does perhaps lend itself to an alien, but there were also influences on the way the film was produced. During the 1970’s soft porn was lawfully passed to be allowed to show in everyday films instead of just in specialist cinemas. This is an obvious influence on the film which contains an unnecessarily high amount of sex.
Moving on to the play and we find Newton still in turmoil. This is set decades later and gives a very real reflection of the same character. Michael C Hall’s portrayal of Newton is a million miles away from Bowie’s, and I loved it. So much so that I found myself thinking that a remake of the film would be fabulous with him in the main role. Hall can not only act with a passion for the role but has a great voice and can sing the songs as well as Bowie himself. A case in point is Where Are We Now?, which is so good by Hall in its own right. We find Newton is still struggling with his emotions, but now does show an emotional side, albeit subdued. He admits to loving Mary-Lou and that losing her and his family back on his own planet has just descended him into a hell he cannot escape from. He still drinks and spends most of his time in his very beige apartment. Newton has not aged in all these years and can still hear see other people’s lives. He uses TV to drown it all out. That and the alcohol but neither is really working for him.
He has an assistant called Elly who really just cleans up after him. She has her own issues and finds herself secretly fascinated by Mary-Lou and how deep that love was makes her question her own marriage. As Newton continues his decent into madness, Elly is almost dragged down with him, choosing to be called Mary-Lou and changing her hair blue. Elly is played by Amy Lennox and takes us with her on a journey throughout her own emotions of how she feels about her husband and trying to find out who she is. Amy does this very well and we can feel her pain.
During Newton’s decent into oblivion, he meets a girl. She has no name and cannot remember anything about herself but knows all about him and his family back home. Is she real or part of his madness? With her pure white hair and small frame, she represents his hope. His last hope to get home to is family. ‘let’s make a rocket’ she says. The girl is played by Sophia Anne Caruso and she is outstanding in the role. So good in fact, that you cannot imagine anyone else but her playing the role. It belongs to her. She has a perfect voice which lends itself to Bowie songs so beautifully that I actually prefer her version of Life On Mars and This Is Not America.
Valentine is another troubled character who desperately wants to be loved. He meets a couple who are due to be married and wants what they have. He also becomes obsessed with Newton. Valentine is played by Michael Esper and he delivers the role with such a passion that at times, he is scary. His mixed emotions of wanting to be loved with the anger at others who have what he doesn’t, makes him dangerous. Not the sort of person you would want to meet after dark. But this just demonstrates how good Michael Esper is in delivering such a character.
The arrangements of Bowie’s songs really gives them a fresh approach and some of them are almost unrecognisable from the ones we know. Life on Mars and This is not America are totally fabulous and Sophia does an excellent job of giving them a whole new identity. It is worth buying the soundtrack for these tracks alone. The band were seen through a glass at the back of the stage and were simply fantastic. They gave us drama and did justice to the Bowie songs we know and love.
This is a very physical show, with good use of whole of the stage. At one point Newton and the girl are sliding across the floor. There is a good use of physicality including jumping on the bed and bursting balloons. It’s more like watching an active art installation than a play. It’s is a visual masterpiece of using all our senses to tell the story. There is a huge wall which gives an extra dimension to the many TV’s and we can really feel we are inside Newton’s head. But the visuals do not stop there and at several points the whole stage is used to create a visual. In our world of muti-tasking with tech, this is such a current, fresh and innovative idea. It feels very original and ensured that the audience are never bored with just the spoken word.
The quality of acting and singing on stage means this was a very well-cast production. Every member is excellent and there is nobody carrying anyone in this show. The stage set is simple yet very effective and the cast use every aspect of it well. The director has done an excellent job in this and although the set is sparse in bland beige, that just lends itself as a backdrop to the drama of the events that unfold.
The key thing with a good show is to ask the question ‘Would I want to see it again?’. If the answer is yes you have struck a winning formula. This play isn’t just for Bowie fans, it’s for anyone who loves a well-produced and fantastically acted performance. With a range of emotions on offer, it will make you laugh and cry – in fact a whole roller-coaster of emotions. And key to its success is no interval. This keeps the emotions on track and gives the show its intensity.
Would I go see it again? Absolutely, in a heartbeat. One of the most original and fantastic things I have ever seen on stage. Bowie, this is your legacy and what a brilliant one it is.
UPDATE: Thank you all so much for your feedback. I have been overwhelmed with such a response. Below are just a few of the things that have been said on this review:
David: Lovely heartfelt review. I agree the lack of interval preserves the intensity and carries the play's momentum. Thank you
Sandra: Great review.....we will be seeing it again (for the 4th time) next weekend, closing performance....it is sublime, a gift....and is more emotional each time you see it. Disagree about MWFTE though, should never be re-made, its perfect as it is :-)
Sarah: That was a beautiful review Jasmine. Thank you, it brought a tear to my eye. Oh and definitely 'no' to a remake of The Man Who Fell To Earth. I love it as it is. ⚡ But this is a good review to read. Maybe it explains things a little more.
Steven: An excellent review Jasmine, spot on with your observations. 👍 😉
Ingrid: Great review!
Véronique: Thank you for your review. I've posted it on my Twitter account ;-)
Tracy: brilliant review x
Helen: I loved your review! I'd read a particularly negative tweet from Jon gaunt (and replied to him). It was lovely to read yours which seemed much more accurate!
Melody: Fantastic review 💜 ⚡👩🎤👨🎤
Suzanne: Great review Jasmine - when I saw the show just after it opened of course I was blown away but I definitely see it as an art installation. I'm looking forward to seeing it again on Saturday!
Karen: Nice work!
Tracy: Fab words about a fab show!
Julesnkev: A very enjoyable read Jasmine, thank you (ps is that a Scaramouche costume you're wearing in your profile pic at the top of the blog? )
Beverley: The show is worthy of the review and the review is worthy of the show! Thank you for posting. Carol: What a Truly Brilliant review!
Martine: Brilliant indeed! Very accurate review of this deeply moving show. What a legacy...