Review: LAZARUS at the King's Cross Theatre

I got the hype for Lazarus when it premiered almost a year ago at the New York Theatre Workshop, but I didn't delve too far into what it was about as I wanted to keep the surprise alive. Now, the show has made its way into its own personal temporary theatre in the King's Cross Theatre complex in London and for better or for worse, it's drawing David Bowie fans in by the coach load.

I'm not a huge fan of David Bowie as I've never taken the time to fully immerse myself in his work, but I have always been able to appreciate his art and his message and this show is on a similar wave length. To say that I completely understood the story or the message would be a total lie, but it doesn't mean that I didn't appreciate what the art was trying to get at. The show feels so much more like a piece of theatre art as opposed to a musical (perhaps heightened by the fact that the audience isn't given a chance to applaud until the end of the show) and while it seemed odd at first, it made total sense: David Bowie was hardly a man to write the next School of Rock, but he was a man that knew how to make a statement with his art.

Michael Esper, Michael C. Hall and the cast of Lazarus at the King's Cross Theatre

The story is based on the movie The Man Who Fell To Earth which starred Bowie himself and it follows a man named Thomas Newton: a man from another planet who has been forced to stay on Earth for an unknown reason. Newton is unable to die or escape and is nursed by a woman named Elly who slowly starts to fall in love with him... or so he thinks. Newton's brain is soaked in cheap gin and bowls of Lucky Charms as he endures the memories of past loves and enemies, all until a girl in a similar situation to him shows up one day and appears to be his ticket out. It was hard to follow at first and you're never quite sure if what you're watching is all inside Newton's head or is actually real, but it was a story that I began to feel really attached to as time progressed and I fell in love with the characters. David Bowie and Enda Walsh have brought a story to the stage that is flawed for sure, but works when its put in this strangely hypnotic and cathartic world; you feel so lost and consumed by the piece that the lack of detail doesn't seem to matter.

The music was a highlight of the piece, of course. I wasn't aware until the show began that almost all of the music is old Bowie music, not an original score that he wrote to go with it. At first it felt strange and it did kind of feel like they were singing his songs (in new arrangements by Bowie) for the sake of singing them, but it eventually became apparent that that was all in the nature of the piece and when songs like Life On Mars? were performed (one of my favourite songs of all time), it brought a tear to my eye. David Bowie and Enda Walsh crafted these classic and timeless songs in a vibe and energy of a show as well as a story and that's something that I haven't consciously recognised in a musical in a long, long time.

Sophia Ann Caruso as Girl and Michael C. Hall as Thomas Newton in David Bowie's Lazarus

A piece like this wouldn't work without a fantastic cast though and this show has just that. Michael C. Hall makes a fantastic London stage debut as Thomas Newton getting so lost in the role that it made me ache to see him in countless other things. His performance as Newton was so immersive that the thought of him being Hall and not Newton didn't cross my mind once until he took his bow at the end of the show and considering he is on stage constantly from start to finish, that's impressive. Amy Lennox also made a wonderful addition to the main line up of American actors. Having only ever seen her in Kinky Boots before, I was dubious about her performance being a little bit superficial, but I couldn't have been more wrong. Lennox made me love her character, then hate her and then sympathise with her over the course of 100 minutes and I was delighted to have done so. Equally, her performances of songs like Changes were highlights of the show. A lot of praise has to be said of Sophia Ann Caruso as Girl though in a performance that still haunts me to this moment. She radiates natural beauty and naivete in a performance that demands to be heard: her vocals are sublime and when she opened her mouth to sing Life on Mars?, I knew that her performance was stellar. It's a theatrical moment that will be haunting me for a long time to come and one that has made her a star in my eyes.

The show is beautifully put together as well and Ivo Van Hove's legendary directorial talents have made this piece artistically beautiful. The set by Jan Versweyveld is minimal and while the projections that he has designed add a lot of colour to this intentionally beige setting, it's Van Hove's expert touch that has made this show the visual masterpiece that it is. I felt like I was watching a moving painting come to life right in front of me and it helped to add to the vibe of artistic beauty perfectly. An D'Huys's costume design and Annie-B Parson's choreography also add to this spectacle and should be commended for their input in equal measure, too.

Michael C. Hall takes centre stage in Lazarus, currently playing at the King's Cross Theatre

Lazarus isn't just a show for those who are a fan of David Bowie. It's a show for those who are fans of art, theatre or beauty. No matter what your artistic persuasion may be, Lazarus is a show that will astound you and haunt you for a long time after you leave the theatre; it may not be the next Les Miz, but it is certainly a show worthy of your time.

Lazarus is currently playing at its own temporary theatre in the King's Cross Theatre complex. Tickets are available thru January 22nd, here.

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