BWW Review: David Bowie Catalog Interpreted In The Musically Gorgeous WHERE ARE WE NOW at La MaMa
Fans of David Bowie's music - and especially his lyrics - should immediately stop reading this review and book tickets to see the very limited run of Where Are We Now. Then come back and continuing reading! With a $26 top ticket price, this is one of the greatest cabaret values in New York City. The version of "Heroes" is musically gorgeous and absolutely unforgettable. I would argue the best one ever. I would be right.
In the basement space of La MaMa, Sven Ratzke performs two hours of music from the Bowie catalog. In between numbers he tells stories, makes jokes and pulls his audience into his orbit. He enters wearing a blue jacket with hilariously exaggerated shoulder pads and large boots. Everything about his look and his performance, however, screams homage rather than caricature.
Mr. Ratzke remarks that the one thing he and his audience have in common is a memory of this unique and remarkable artist. For him, David Bowie gave us "a key to a big house at the end of a street." Exploring each room leads to another song in another world. Why not open the show with "The Man Who Sold the World?"
Charming is the word which best describes this performer. He informs us that he is one-half German and one-half Dutch. That dichotomy leads to one side yelling "where are the drugs?" and the other side responding "nein! nein! nein!" Directed by Dirk Groeneveld, the show is well paced. The enjoyable storytelling and relaxed atmosphere is interspersed with one musical high point after another.
The marvelous Christian Pabst accompanies Mr. Ratzke on a grand piano. This show is intimate and reflective, funny and seriously thoughtful. The music is simply exquisite and beautiful in its simplicity. You can hear David Bowie in the performance but it is not mimicry. It's adulation. The lyrics shine brightly and the piano becomes a perfect vehicle to reconsider these classic songs. There is a nice mix of later career radio standards and early developmental quirkiness.
"Jean Genie" has never been a favorite song of mine. This version adds piano solos and riffing. The tune becomes yet another stand out so that it is very difficult to decide which is the best moment in this melodic waterfall of excellence. "Ashes to Ashes" perhaps?
Thierry Mugler and Armin van Zutphen designed the witty and colorful costumes with shoes by Jan Jansen. Mr. Ratzke has an imposing stage presence. He is a space oddity with his elaborately styled mane of hair. The impressively restrained lighting design enhances this show considerably. I found the evening to be as magical as it is nostalgic.
In an encore at the end of the Where Are We Now, Mr. Ratzke will ask "Is There Life on Mars?" He sings about the film being a saddening bore. This show is anything but that. If you are unable to catch this extraordinarily conceived and performed entertainment this week, he will be back in May at Joe's Pub. Don't commit a "Rock'n Roll Suicide" and miss this opportunity to slow down and listen. Expressive lyricism and wistful introspection await the lucky theatergoer.
Where We Are now is being performed in The Downstairs at La MaMa through December 21, 2019.