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David Bowie's New York musical becomes a memorial

Published 13/01/2016

Sophia Anne Caruso and Michael C Hall in a scene from David Bowie and Enda Walsh's Lazarus (Matt Ross Public Relations/AP)
Sophia Anne Caruso and Michael C Hall in a scene from David Bowie and Enda Walsh's Lazarus (Matt Ross Public Relations/AP)

A performance of David Bowie's trippy, melancholy musical Lazarus turned into a memorial for the Thin White Duke 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 winning a ticket in an online lottery. "It was beautiful."

Tuesday night's performance was the first time since Bowie's death that the show went on at the 200-seat New York Theatre Workshop in the city'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.

The musical, starring Dexter and Six Feet Under actor Michael C Hall, has been a hit since previews began on November 18. Bowie's death only made tickets more desired, with a single matinee seat going on Tuesday afternoon for 1,900 dollars (£1,320) 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 and a Bowie fan since she was 12.

"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 centres 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 is harassed by an enigmatic, black-clad figure.

At one point, the stage is filled with white liquid resembling milk, on which some actors bodysurf. At another, it 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 such tragedy. Nearly 20 years ago to the day, playwright Jonathan Larson died on the eve of the company's first preview of his ground-breaking Rent.

Meanwhile Bowie's long-time producer Tony Visconti celebrated the musician's life with a tribute concert in Toronto, Canada, telling the audience there was no better way to work through grief than by music.

About 900 people gathered at the sold-out venue and heard the band Holy Holy, featuring bassist Visconti and former Bowie drummer Mick (Woody) Woodmansey.

The event was planned months ago as part of a tour, but sold out only after Bowie's death.

Visconti who produced Blackstar, addressed the crowd just before the set, saying that Monday was one of the worst days of his life after he learned of Bowie's death.

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