BWW Review: DAVID BOWIE'S LAZARUS at Det Norske Teatret - Transfixing Moments of Pure Bowie!
It is not easy to interpret what the deeper hidden meaning behind "Lazarus" is. On one hand it feels very much like a theatrical extravaganza, a piece that unfolds in dream logic composed of a series of tableaux of life's many questions, like existentiality, sex, love and death. While others may, understandably, view it as overly pretentious and, minus Bowie's music, not easily accessible.
No one can accuse this musical of being a commercial take on David Bowie's music. It will be many years before we see a jukebox musical as unapologetically weird as Lazarus, an almost unfathomable and strangely intriguing musical inspired by the book, The Man Who Fell To Earth.
The story centers on Thomas Jerome Newton, a humanoid alien who came to Earth from his drought-stricken planet many years earlier. After amassing a fortune in business while attempting to build a rocket ship to take him home, he was experimented on by the government and now lives in depressed isolation on a diet of gin, Twinkies and jarring bursts of blaring television screens, unable to leave or to die.
It took some getting used to this strange premise, but I decided to play along with the obscurities and just accept that, like Thomas Newton, this plot is something out of this world. And it has a beautifully executed production directed by Anders T. Andresen. His direction is caricatured and deliciously strange, opting for impactful moments, helped by computer animation, and "live" video streaming, even having the actors carrying video cameras around capturing the characters expression like in a music video. He has a rich imagination ideal for this wild ride. The scenic design by Dagny Drage Kleive and video-design by Boya Rockman are also visually stunning, and helps move the story along.
Joachim Rafaelsen (as Thomas Newton) carries this show on his shoulders, and performs the songs in a way that sounds and looks very much like the late David Bowie. Especially his voice is uncanny, while his interpretation never borderlines to imitation. Also his movements also feel very much like him. It is a truly memorable performance.
Petter Vermli as the angel of death, Valentine, is a welcome relief from all the existential pain. A true showman, sprouting a leather outfit, long hair and (at one point) even black angel wings! He works well as counterpoint to Thomas both visually and vocally. It looks like he has a lot of fun with his songs.
But the breakthrough performance in "Lazarus" comes from Mimi Tamba as Girl. She is mesmerizing all the way through, with a tremendous voice and a very natural scene presence. Her rendition of "Life on Mars" during act two was simply divine. Brava!
In the role of Elly Heidi Gjermundsen Broch shows great comical timing while still being a very sad and distraught character. Her anguished take on Changes was a nice take on the song. Her role symbolizes the female sexual awakening. While her lackluster husband Zach, played by Hans Magnus Hilderavn Rys symbolizes the opposite.
Thankfully the production uses the original orchestrations, by Henry Hey. The band plays perfectly David Bowie's music, which strangely lends itself well to theatrical presentation. The four new songs are also a welcome addition to Bowie's musical catalogue. Especially "No Plan" is hauntingly beautiful. These are all inarguably marvelous songs, but few of them are incorporated into the libretto, which can give the play the feeling of a downbeat and occasionally alarming karaoke party. But the direction and visuals helps to hide this for the most part. Especially the "Teenage girls" chorus are a great addition, played by Amanda Kamara, Joakim R. Ousdal and Ingrid Jørgensen Dragland. Vocally the cast definitely surpasses the original New York production.
In conclusion I will say that while "Lazarus" may not be for everyone, especially those who have no association to Bowie's music, it is still musically and visually impressive, and a emotively beautiful way to (kind of) reconnect with the great pop icon.