WHERE New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. Fourth St.
INFO $90-$125; 212-460-5475; nytw.org
BOTTOM LINE A musical as unsettling and fascinating as David Bowie himself.
“Lazarus” includes David Bowie songs spanning more than four decades, but it would be ridiculous to describe it as another jukebox musical. The nonstop two-hour piece revisits Thomas Newton, the stranded alien, years after Bowie portrayed him in the 1976 movie “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” But it would be wrong to expect a conventional sequel to the Walter Tevis novel that inspired both works.
Let’s start instead by calling Bowie’s first musical a riveting multimedia meditation — a visceral, disturbing, hallucinatory experience that’s as nonlinear and chameleonic as the rock star himself.
It is hard to imagine a more combustible alchemy than his collaboration with Enda Walsh, the Irish playwright who wrote the book for the odd and enchanting “Once,” and Ivo van Hove, the visionary Belgian maverick whose staging of “A View From the Bridge” is now dazzling Broadway.
Thomas Newton is a bundle on the floor of the tan-on-taupe luxury apartment when we enter the 199-seat theater (where, not incidentally, “Rent” and “Once” began). He lives on TV and gin, describing himself as “a dying man who can’t die.” Sent from Mars with no way to get back, he got rich here but retired as a recluse with little more than a broken heart from a lost love (with turquoise hair) and characters who bring flashes of color but exist only in his mind. At least we think they do.
Michael C. Hall makes an ideal Newton — an ordinary yet strange presence with sunken eyes and a voice that’s Bowie-esque without imitation. Cristin Milioti is daring and plaintive as his needy new assistant, Michael Esper makes an imposing Mephistophelean menace named Valentine, while Lynn Craig has a delicate childlike quality and a powerhouse vibrato-less voice as the little girl sent to save him.
Characters appear from behind the big screen, which shows old TV, Newton in a spacesuit, scenes of Vegas and Japan and Germany, lots of visual static and even Alan Cumming. Behind the shiny high-rise windows is the band, equally at home with the bluesy Bowie, the lounge lizard Bowie, the flashy-rock Bowie, from the early ’70s sounds of “Ch-Ch Changes” and “The Man Who Sold the World” to the dense wisdom of “Love Is Lost” from 2013.
Some songs and avant-garde techniques may seem like throwbacks. But this is urgent, stirring, genuine rock art — musical theater like nothing that has fallen to Earth before.