Lazarus: A Review

December 8, 2015


I went to a performance of Lazarus on Saturday, and wrote about it for Slate. Read it here.

There are some spoilers in the review in terms of which songs are performed. If you’re going to see the show, you might wish to hold off reading it, as some of the fun is when the first bars of a song are played and you’re like, “Ah, that one.”

Some various thoughts that didn’t fit in the piece:

  1. There’s a lot of Outside in this play, to the point where you could argue the plot is a collision between two albums, Low and Outside. Let’s just say the Baby Grace cold case is solved here.
  2. I didn’t get into this too much, but the staging and set pieces are excellent, particularly for an off-Broadway show in a relatively small theater. The character Valentine’s big number (you can likely guess what it is) is a tour de force involving video, lighting and what looked like 100 balloons being popped.
  3. The band (saxophone, trombone, keyboards, guitar, bass, drums) did what was required: playing the songs competently and not obtrusively, and you never winced and said “man, they’re draining the blood out of this thing.” But there was, unsurprisingly, a remove and restraint in the performances: it must be hard when you’re called upon to replicate legendary Robert Fripp lead lines on a nightly basis and yet not upstage the actors.
  4. Michael Hall has a great blank charisma. His Newton was unlike Bowie’s but felt like a development of the character: there was a sense that this is what’s become of Newton after keeping to his room for decades and drinking and eating Twinkies all the time. Hall is stockier and beefier than Bowie, obviously, but there were times when he was channeling Bowie, with his face taking on some of Bowie’s qualities. It was eerie, like a willed possession.
  5. Some lines (Newton is asked “don’t you miss the business at all?”) felt like some meta-commentary by the play’s co-author.
  6. As I wrote, it’s tough to judge how the new songs will hold up. The opener, “Lazarus,” will be on the new album and I can see it working with a Bowie vocal and an ominous building arrangement. The other three seemed more built-to-order for the show: I’m pretty sure these are not on Blackstar, but we’ll find out soon enough.
  7. The audience was very confused by a moment when Hall yelled “yeah, that’s right: four new songs! Push ahead of this!” (note: this didn’t really happen).

POLL’S OVER. About 350 ballots, give or take, came in before the deadline. Thanks to everyone who took part, and the results should be next week.

Top: Sophia Anne Caruso and Michael C. Hall, Lazarus.