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We can be heroes

04 Jun 2019

We can be heroes Image

By Rhonda Dredge

Love doesn’t have a chance in the abstract halls of New York where disenchanted beings try and enthrall each other with their wayward tales.

Thomas Newton is an alien, landed on earth some time ago, who drinks gin in his apartment and dreams of the old galaxy.

I’m in danger. I’m so high. He’s stuck on earth without a means of return.

Newton, played by Chris Ryan, is an attractive fellow in the flesh, prone in his pyjamas in various states of disarray beneath a blue moon.

Several young women want to rescue him but they, too, have their loads. Youth and beauty are not enough to get them through.

This wonderful dystopian musical plays out through the songs of David Bowie in a moving tribute to the great prophet of alienation.

It’s as if you haven’t lived unless you have suffered and understood how puny life is in the grand scheme of things.

Bowie died in January 2016 and Lazarus, on at the Playhouse, was his last musical, based on the novel The man who fell to earth by Walter Tevis. It premiered in New York in December 2015.

Bowie had acted in the movie adaptation of the novel and wanted to bring it to the stage. He approached script writer Enda Walsh with a four-page synopsis which included three more characters, including Girl, a mass murderer Valentine and a character based on Emma Lazarus, an American poet.

“His lyrics often arrive cut-up and opaque,” wrote Walsh. “It was rarely about listening to the words and sticking it into the story. It was about the emotion, rhythm and atmosphere of those songs.”

And how wonderfully the director Michael Kantor and set designer Anna Cordingley capture the atmosphere with a two-storey paned window in the centre of the stage that variously excludes and includes action beyond Newton’s apartment.

Sometimes the window serves as a screen when scenes from outside New York’s grimy streets are displayed, mostly fragmented glimpses of a planet in overload.

Intimate moments are difficult to support in this crossfire of interplanetary influences. A gang mentality prospers in the culture and something as simple as a job comes fraught with personal jealousies and pining.

Elly, played by Phoebe Panaretos, is Newton’s assistant. I need to do something with my life. I have a shitty personality. Elly gets involved in a plot to rehabilitate Newton by emulating his lost love, Marylou, somewhere or other on a planet far away with his child. Hello Marylou. Goodbye heart.

Characters are caught between worlds or pass like ships in the night. We spoke upon the stairs. This is a story about separation from loved ones and self.

Girl, a child woman, perhaps Newton’s daughter, has been lying in a grave with her eyes open, unable to die. We never lost control. Oh no, not me. I never lost control. The man who sold the world.

Some pedants are critical of the musical as a form because it can use a weak story line to link songs. But this is not the case with Lazarus, which manages to squeeze in 18 Bowie songs, sung in Bowie style with a seven piece band visible through the glass.

The lyrics of the songs intertwine with the script and dancers with pink tassels bounce around the stage until they all cross over each other in the finale when Newton takes off in his imaginary rocket. New York might be edgy but it does have a soul. We can be heroes just for one day.

Lazarus, The Production Company, Playhouse, until June 9.

Artscentremelbourne.com.au

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