21.05.2019

Review: David Bowie’s ‘Lazarus’ breathes new life into the Starman’s legacy

Lazarus
Photo: Jeff Busby

★★★★

Words by James Robertson

Unlike the original myth of Lazarus, David Bowie will not be resurrected anytime soon. So, it’s the job of the musical, coincidentally entitled Lazarus, to continue his breathtaking legacy. First opening on Broadway in 2015, the production has finally landed in the Playhouse Theatre at Arts Centre Melbourne to take Bowie fans on a rollercoaster ride of a musical.

Serving as a spiritual sequel to The Man Who Fell to Earth, and based on the book of the same name, Lazarus tells the story of Thomas Jerome Newton (Chris Ryan) and follows his life languishing on Earth. Newton is trapped on our world, can’t return to his home planet and, with the loss of his dearest Mary Lou, drinks away the days in his lonely apartment. It’s only when Elly (Phoebe Panaretos) falls for Newton do the voices in his head begin to take over.

The musical is by no means conventional in its storytelling and you’ll probably be left scratching your head in confusion by the end. However, this vagueness only lends itself to the absurd mystique of the whole production. It gives an interesting insight into the man himself, as many of the facets of alcoholism and alienation would have been relatable to Bowie during his life.

Those hoping to hear Bowie’s hits will be the happiest of the lot. Numerous tracks appear in the score, such as ‘It’s No Game (Part 1)’ from 1980’s Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), and more recent EP b-sides like ‘Killing A Little Time’ and ‘When I Met You’. Some songs will be unknown to the casual Bowie listener, but they give the production a voice of its own, as it thankfully does not sacrifice its story for the sake of crowd favourites. Nevertheless, ‘Heroes’ doesn’t fail to bring a tear to the eye, with a beautifully stripped-down, ballad rendition of the epic anthem.

The band really impressed with their accurate renderings of Bowie’s original songs, especially packing a punch with their rousing performance of ‘Absolute Beginners’. The cast is equally impressive, with Emily Milledge lending her angelic voice to some of the most emotional tracks. New Zealand-Australian singer iOTA delights in his embodiment of classic Bowie characters, like the villainous Thin White Duke who wreaks murderous havoc. But it’s Chris Ryan’s portrayal of Newton that drives Lazarus, as his vocal performances are some of the most powerfully commanding of the whole show.

Visually rich projections work across the stage to always keep the audience interested, along with intriguingly colourful costuming and explosive dance accompaniment to boot.

The cast and crew of Lazarus’ Australian premiere should be proud for staging David Bowie’s Broadway passion project, one of the last major works he would make before his untimely death. It serves as an invigorating blast of superb musical fun and continues to further the Starman’s musical message from beyond the grave.

Lazarus is running at Arts Centre Melbourne’s Playhouse Theatre until Sunday June 9. For more information, head to the Arts Centre website.