Entertainment & Arts

Lazarus: David Bowie musical receives mixed reviews on London transfer

Michael C Hall in Lazarus Image copyright Jan Versweyveld
Image caption Michael C Hall stars as alien visitor Thomas Jerome Newton in Lazarus

David Bowie musical Lazarus has opened in London to mixed reviews - with some critics giving it five stars, and others just one.

The show, a collaboration between the late musician and Enda Walsh, is based on the story of The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Bowie played the alien visitor in a 1976 film of the same name.

The Times described Lazarus as "pretentious rubbish" and "nonsense on stilts".

And Telegraph critic Dominic Cavendish admitted to being "disappointed".

Directed by Ivo van Hove, the show features around 20 Bowie songs - old and new - and tells the story of the humanoid alien Thomas Jerome Newton and his attempts to return to his home planet while being haunted by memories of an old lover.

Lazarus had its world premiere in New York almost a year ago, where Bowie made his last public appearance before his death in January.

It has now relocated to London's King's Cross Theatre, a large pop-up venue next to the train station.

'Disappointingly earthbound'

Cavendish said of the opaque plot: "It's hard to engage head or heart when there's so much enigma."

But he added that hearing some of Bowie's classics, played by an on-stage band, "causes a mist of emotion-steeped reverie to descend. For some, that'll be enough".

Ann Treneman was less generous in The Times, saying "its aim is to obscure and mystify, as if we are watching underwater" and that it is "like an interminable music video from the Nineties" - her solitary star, she writes, is for the musicians and actors.

Lazarus only fares slightly better in the Evening Standard, with Henry Hitchings musing that "perhaps the most devoted Bowie fans will find layers of meaning here that blow their minds", but that in his opinion "this isn't a mesmerising experience and it mostly feels disappointingly earthbound". He gave it two stars.

Image copyright Jan Versweyveld
Image caption The live band is praised for their performance during the show

In the Guardian, Michael Billington struggled to find a word for the genre, settling on "part sci-fi story, part rock concert, part video installation, part study in alienation".

But while he admired Michael C Hall - star of Dexter - in the central role, he admitted Lazarus did not move him and that he "felt a sense of alienation" from the whole production.

Nick Wells in the Radio Times awarded five stars, saying "you can't help but be intrigued by the fascinating performances and underlying context".

He said the reworked songs, including classics Changes and Heroes, "sound great", adding: "At times dream-like in quality, you feel not everything may even be meant to be understood. But in a way, it doesn't really matter. The overall effect is captivating, tense, and emotional."

'Wild energy'

Ian Shuttleworth, writing in the Financial Times, gave four stars, and said "a proper Bowie musical was never going to be succinctly explicable", writing: "Put it this way: Grease it ain't. The Bowie dimension explains and grounds much of this head-spinning evening."

Whatonstage.com also awarded four stars, with Sarah Crompton writing: "This is a show full of wild energy, magical effects and overwhelming music. Its themes are pertinent and potentially deeply moving.

"But what it lacks is any real narrative arc; there's a concept where its heart ought to be, an emptiness that all its outstanding qualities cannot hide."

In another four-star review, The Stage's Mark Shenton said that while he did not always know what was going on, the show "in which a man contemplates shaking off his life on earth, is a kind of eerie premonition, a settling of Bowie's own existential reckoning".

Quentin Letts' verdict, in the Daily Mail, was that Lazarus was "evocative in a slightly batty way, but without those songs and the Bowie brand it might have struggled to find a producer".

Lazarus is at King's Cross Theatre, London, until 22 January 2017.

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