Bowie musical becomes a memorial – Singer’s finale soars on charts after death shock

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NEW YORK, Jan 13, (Agencies): A performance of David Bowie’s trippy, melancholy musical “Lazarus” turned into a memorial for the Thin White Duke on Tuesday night as fans who had bought tickets to celebrate his music instead found themselves mourning his passing.

“It was incredible. I wept a lot,” said Evan Schwartz, a 20-year-old student from Stanford, Connecticut, who saw the show for a second time after scoring a ticket in an online lottery. “It was beautiful.”

Tuesday night’s performance was the first time since Bowie’s death on Monday that the show went on at the 200-seat New York Theatre Workshop in New York’s East Village. Some audience members left in tears.

Cast members did not acknowledge the death or make any changes to the show. They also declined to comment. The only official nod to Bowie’s death was a video screen in the lobby showing a photo of the musician with the words “In Memoriam, 1947-2016.” Fans left flowers near the entrance.


Starring “Dexter” and “Six Feet Under” actor Michael C. Hall, the musical has been a hit since previews began on Nov 18. Bowie’s death only made tickets more desired, with a single matinee seat going Tuesday afternoon for $1,900 on StubHub.

Bowie wrote the musical with Irish playwright Enda Walsh as a sequel to the 1963 novel “The Man Who Fell to Earth” by Walter Tevis, which inspired the 1976 film of the same name that he starred in. The musical is directed by Belgian avant-garde director Ivo Van Hove.

Bowie was clearly the draw for Roberta Bethencourt, a New Jersey resident who has been a Bowie fan since she was 12 years old.

“I used to go to the library and when other kids were getting books, I was getting ‘Space Oddity’ and bringing it home and playing over and over again,” she said. “I had no idea what an impact he had on so many people. I loved him because he was so different and unique.”

The 18-songs in the musical include some of Bowie’s biggest hits — including “Changes,” ‘’Heroes,” ‘’Absolute Beginners” and “Life on Mars” — as well as new songs like “Lazarus,” taken from Bowie’s latest “Blackstar” album.

The opaque story centers on millionaire alien Thomas Jerome Newton, who Bowie portrayed in the film. Newton, played now by Hall, has imprisoned himself in his own apartment, drinking gin, eating Twinkies, being tormented by his past and watching TV. He cannot leave — or die.

His new assistant gets sucked deeper into his world, Newton is visited by an ethereal girl who creates a rocket ship out of masking tape to take him home, and he’s harassed by an enigmatic, black-clad figure. At one point, the stage is filled with white liquid resembling milk, which some actors bodysurf on. At another, it’s is filled with dark balloons.

The story has a recurring theme of creatures caught between worlds and the exhaustion that comes with daily survival. “I’m done with this living,” a character cries out a one point, in a line that had more depth after Bowie’s passing.

The rest of the 11-member cast includes Tony Award nominee Cristin Milioti and Broadway veteran Michael Esper. There is also a video appearance by Alan Cumming.

The New York Theatre Workshop, an engine for bold works, has not been immune to tragedy like this. Almost 20 years ago to the day, playwright Jonathan Larson died on the eve of the company’s first preview of his groundbreaking “Rent.”

Bowie’s final album soared toward the top of the charts Tuesday after the music legend’s death from cancer stunned the world, with the details still shrouded in mystery two days on.

“Blackstar,” released on Bowie’s 69th birthday Friday, was on course to be the first number-one album in the United States for the quintessentially avant-garde artist who lived his last two decades in New York but enjoyed greater mainstream success in his native Britain.

Billboard, which will publish the benchmark US chart this weekend, said that “Blackstar” was expected to easily outsell ballad singer Adele’s blockbuster “25,” which has spent seven weeks at number one.

In Britain, the Official Charts Company forecast that “Blackstar” would lead the weekly list and that 13 of Bowie’s previous albums would re-enter the top 100.

“Blackstar” was the top-selling album on iTunes in all major developed countries on Monday.

Songs from the album as well as classic Bowie hits such as “Heroes,” “Let’s Dance” and “Under Pressure” — performed with Queen — also entered the charts of streaming leader Spotify, with Bowie’s catalog ascending especially quickly in France.

“Blackstar” on its release already enjoyed nearly universal critical acclaim, with Bowie again proving his mastery of reinvention by creating a saxophone-driven hard jazz sound.

Yet only a few people knew that the album would be Bowie’s swansong and that it was in fact a meditative finale to a nearly half-century career.

Especially poignant is the song “Lazarus,” whose video — also released on Bowie’s birthday, two days before he died — depicts him levitating from a hospital bed.

“This way or no way / You know I’ll be free / Just like that bluebird,” Bowie sang over an ominous bassline but with no hint of weakness in his voice.

Slender and pale, David Bowie counted the dour Thin White Duke among his many incarnations. But his first love was African-American music and his views on race, like his music, were often ahead of their time.

After the British rock legend’s shock death from cancer on Sunday at age 69, a video went viral online of a dapper Bowie in 1983 accusing then-nascent MTV of ignoring African-Americans, a trend “rampant through American media.”

Bowie persists politely as MTV host Mark Goodman insists that the network needs to “play the music that we think an entire country is going to like” and appear meaningful to “a 17-year-old” outside big US cities.

“I tell you what maybe the Isley Brothers or Marvin Gaye means to a black 17-year-old. Surely he’s part of America as well,” Bowie said, referring to classic African-American acts.

Bowie, a skilled actor who was an MTV favorite in the 1980s, was hardly risking his career through the interview and, soon afterward, Michael Jackson broke through the network’s color barrier.

But the episode was just one that showed Bowie to be a leader on racial issues, even as his fan base was largely white.


Early in his career as he performed in the American South, which was just ending official discrimination codes, Bowie insisted on playing with African-American musicians and would whisk the band out of town immediately after concerts to avoid trouble.

In 1975, as he exited his early glam-rock phase, Bowie became one of the first white performers on “Soul Train,” the television show that was a must-watch for many African-Americans.

Bowie performed two songs that would be among his most famous — “Fame” and “Young Americans.” The songs appeared on his “Young Americans” album, recorded at Sigma Sound Studios, the legendary center of soul music in Philadelphia.

In one of the most visible signs of his comfort on race, Bowie in 1992 married Somali-born supermodel Iman, a relationship that lasted until his death.

In a 1993 interview with Arsenio Hall, Bowie said the couple’s celebrity status shielded them from bigotry but voiced dismay that interracial couples were more common in Europe than the United States at the time.

But Bowie’s record on racial equality was marred by a flirtation with a philosophy that could hardly be further removed — Nazism.

Just a year after appearing on “Soul Train,” Bowie was detained on the border of the Soviet Union and Poland for a collection of Nazi memorabilia.

His Great White Duke persona was grim and consciously Aryan and Bowie described Hitler as an early rock star.

Bowie later took pains to distance himself, saying he was out of his mind on drugs.

He said he never embraced anti-Semitism but developed a misguided fascination with the Nazis over their search for the mythical Holy Grail in Glastonbury, England.

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