We’ve just watched 1976 Bowie film The Man Who Fell To Earth when Michael C. Hall, the star of his new musical Lazarus, appears on the BFI stage for a Q&A.
- Read on for all the Lazarus gossip plus a video of Hall performing at the Mercury Prize
Hall is in London to perform at the Mercury Prize and talk about his new musical which opens next month at London’s new Kings Cross Theatre.
Hall remembers Bowie affectionately for reducing the pressure on him when they first met. ‘I wasn’t sure whether I should bow to him and then got really nervous when I had to sing for him. He just said: ‘Now sing my songs for me‘, recognising the absurdity of the moment.
‘Afterwards I felt that there was nothing left to fear, I could do anything.’
Hall is joined by the show’s producer Robert Fox who explains that Lazarus is a continuation of The Man Who Fell To Earth with Hall playing Bowie’s character alien Thomas Jerome Newton who wants to return home.
He’d known Bowie for 40 years but it was towards the end of the superstar’s life that their paths crossed more often as Bowie sought out the plays Fox was staging in New York. ‘He loved the theatre. At that point we didn’t know the clock was ticking but I knew he wanted to do something called Lazarus based on the character TJ Newton and set about trying to find the people to make that happen. It was the one musical he wanted to write.’
Once author Enda Walsh was given the choice of Bowie’s back catalogue to augment the story, acclaimed director Ivo van Hove was recruited and knew Hall who may be best known for his TV roles in the UK (Dexter and Six Feet Under) but had appeared on Broadway in musicals including Chicago, Cabaret and Hedwig and The Angry Inch.
van Hove was keen to see Hall’s interpretation of the TJ Newton character rather than his take on Bowie playing the alien. The show includes three new Bowie songs which the star recorded before his death and will appear on the cast version of the album.
Bowie had been involved with casting and caught the show before he died. Fox remembers: ‘He was absolutely thrilled with it. I saw him days after he first saw it and he was still absolutely buzzing.’
The cast recorded their contributions, completely coincidentally, on the day Bowie died in January. They had not known how ill he was. There were 10 days of the show to run and Hall speaks of reinterpreting the material with the benefit of hindsight.
Asked about the show which is set in Newton’s New York apartment, Hall says: ‘It’s a meditation on isolation and mortality.’
Comedian David Baddiel is in the audience and asks how involved the film’s director Nicolas Roeg was in Lazarus. He wasn’t – and the source material is very much Walter Tevis’ novel which Bowie had the rights for for years.
Fox thinks Bowie identified with Newton’s character. ‘I don’t think he really thought of himself as an alien but I do think he could appreciate the story of someone who’s thrown into a world where they suddenly have an incredible amount of money and can do what they like yet feel isolated.’
Rehearsals for the UK opening begin 26 September before its 24 October first preview.