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A CurtainUp Review
Despite its story about an alien visitor who has come to our planet on a mission to save his own dying world, the plot would normally be recognized for its alliance with science fiction. It turns out to be much more.
The film has its followers but was not a commercial success when it was released. However, the stage production has been imaginatively reconceived as a mind-bending theatrical experience. It is a stunning achievement for all involved.
I guess no one will be surprised to hear that Bowie's score is a compilation of both new songs, new arrangements of songs used in the film, and those picked from his canon. It''ss not really a surprise that they are a revelation of integration, all beautiful to hear and relevant to the story.
Walsh, who best known for his book for the hit musical Once, has brought a wealth of psychological/metaphysical layering into this play with music. It affords a credible and striking union between the purely fantastical, the deeper divisions of the mind as well as the many darker dimensions of human behavior. I suspect that Walsh's purposefully disorienting text adds a distinctly new and provocative aspect to the story of a man who may or may not be who he is or has ever have believed himself to be.
The emotional range and sheer blistering dynamics of Bowie's often soaring songs have been given additional gravitas by a stream of dazzling videos and projections by designer by Tal Yarden. These not only frame the show but blast directly through the heart of it. Unlike any high-tech show I've seen before, they help to define the intense hyper physicality that drives the performances under the direction of master minimalist Van Hove.
Van Hove doesn't need more hype to secure his reputation for being provocative and daring as proven by his approach to such classics as A Streetcar Named Desire, Hedda Gabler , The Little Foxes and currently A View from the Bridge . However his regard for minimalism is now informed by breathtaking visual spectacle.
Weird to be sure, but not impenetrable once we are lifted metaphorically out of our seats, is the plight of Thomas Jerome Newton. He's an exceedingly wealthy and once successful business tycoon who knows he is dying but can no longer remember his past, his marriage and his children. Probably having been tortured and damaged by some form of shock therapy, he failed in his attempt to build a rocket that will enable him to return to his planet. Now he has secluded himself in a penthouse. There he is attended to by an assistant and visited by a former business partner, the only truly flesh and blood supporting character. Newton's continually reconstructed delusions and tangled memories also include people from his past, plus extraterrestrials, a chorus of teenage girls —, Krystina Alabado, Krista Pioppi, Brynn Williams — who add another musical dimension.
Newton is played by Michael C. Hall, who continues to astound us with his versatility and adaptability to a wide variety of complicated roles (The Realistic Joneses, the TV series Six Feet Under and the title character in Hedwig and the Angry Inch). A strong singer as well as a persuasive an actor, Hall makes Newton's despair, death and disintegration both profound and poignant. From Cristin Milloti from Once) is superb as Newton's assistant Elly who becomes obsessed with taking the place of his wife in ways that will remain undisclosed and that result in a terrifyingly shift in her personality.
Scarily envisioned persons who appear in states of continuous flux include Elly's husband Zach (Bobby Moreno) who can't understand her compulsive behavior and attraction to Newton and Michael (Charlie Pollack), Newton's former business associate who offers help. Lynn Craig and Nicholas Christopher are super sexy but ill-fated friends from Newton's past. Michael Esper's Valentine stands out among other semi-defined, menacing, duplicitous characters who step in and out of Newton's televisual world. The most tender performance is from the terrific Sophia Anne Caruso as a blonde Girl who he could have known, or a shape-shifting emissary/liaison from another world.
Putting it all into a space that's definitely more inner than outer, is set and lighting designer Jan Versweyveld. The austere beige-on-beige apartment has only a bed and a refrigerator filled with bottles of gin. It is dominated by a large TV screen set between two huge windows though which the splendid band can be seen. The biggest window, however, allows us to see into the heart of Bowie's music as an entry into a frightening but also unforgettable world.