After David Bowie’s Death, ‘Lazarus’ Holds New Meaning for Fans
Tuesday was an emotional night at New York Theater Workshop, as fans and artists came together to see “Lazarus,” one of David Bowie’s final creations, now in a new light.
It was the first staging of the show since Mr. Bowie’s death on Sunday night, which came with the revelation that he had been secretly battling cancer during much of the musical’s creation. The show, which features both new songs and old favorites by Mr. Bowie, is about an alien trapped on earth, clinging to hope of some kind of immortal life in space.
In the theater’s lobby, a video screen displayed a photograph of David Bowie, alternating with a lyric from the musical: “This way or no way/You know I’ll be free/Just like that blue bird/Ain’t that just like me.”
But there was little else to mark the occasion. The actors and creative team, most of whom had no idea Mr. Bowie had been sick, collectively decided not to add anything before or after the show about the artist’s death; instead, they said, they wanted the art to speak for itself. But the production clearly had new meaning for them; Charlie Pollock, an actor in the show, called the evening “cathartic” and “sweet,” and he added, “It was sort of amazing to get to be a small part in this work.”
The Tuesday night performance had long been sold out — as had much of the run, which began Nov. 18 — so almost everyone in the audience had no idea their attendance would also become a sort of tribute. Many said they were huge Bowie admirers, just beginning to grapple with how to see his art in light of his death.
“Yes, it’s about the work of art tonight, but it’s also about the person that did the work,” said Paul Caddell, 53, of New York. “This is like his requiem — like he planned it all.”
Roberta Bethencourt, 57, of Asbury Park, N.J., showed up wearing a sequined shirt with a large image of Mr. Bowie as a young man, with two different colored eyes, surrounded by stars.
“I’m an avid Bowie fan, and I got the tickets before the holidays,” she said, tears in her eyes. “It’s almost like a gift from David.”
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A few theater industry leaders attended the show, including Joseph V. Melillo, the executive producer of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, who coincidentally had tickets for Tuesday night. He had once dined with Mr. Bowie and his wife, Iman. “I’m sad for the loss of this great artist,” he said.
“Lazarus” was written by Mr. Bowie and the Irish playwright Enda Walsh, and directed by the Belgian theatermaker Ivo van Hove. The show is a sequel to “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” a 1963 novel by Walter Tevis that in 1976 was adapted into a film starring Mr. Bowie. In the film, Mr. Bowie portrayed Thomas Newton, an alien stranded on earth; the musical, starring Michael C. Hall as Mr. Newton, depicts the character decades later, drinking gin, watching television, isolated in his apartment, talking to characters in his head, and declaring, “I’m a dying man who can’t die.”
Although the musical’s final performance is Jan. 20 — a benefit staging to raise money for New York Theater Workshop, an Off Broadway nonprofit organization in the East Village — it is likely to have a future life.
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Robert Fox, a British producer who has financed the show’s development, said in an email, “It’s too early to say where or when exactly ‘Lazarus’ will open next — London seems to be a possible starting point, but I don’t rule anything out.” He added, “Even before David’s death there was massive interest from all over the world, which has escalated since yesterday.”
Inside the packed auditorium, a somber crowd watched raptly until the show’s end, with Mr. Hall — seemingly a stand-in for Mr. Bowie — lying on the floor inside the outline of a rocket ship. The audience applauded and then silently filed out.
Afterward, Eileen Palmer, 56, of St. James, N.Y., was teary, imagining Mr. Bowie’s state of mind during the creative process.
“You get a little glimpse of what the journey might be like,” she said.