Broadway director Ivo van Hove has told the New York Times that he had been aware of Mr. Bowie's illness since November 2014 but did not tell the cast, at the singer's request. The pop music icon lost a very private 18-month battle with cancer Jan. 10 at age 69.
The news was a shock to many across the globe, as Mr. Bowie had been in the midst of yet another artistic renaissance: he released his album "Blackstar" just days before his death and had recently made his musical theatre writing debut with Lazarus, a collaboration with Tony-winning playwright Enda Walsh. The musical, helmed by van Hove, continues to run at New York Theatre workshop through Jan. 20.
Van Hove was one of the few to have known about his illness. He said Mr. Bowie told him about it when they first began collaborating on the show, but asked that it remain strictly confidential. "It was immediately clear it was very serious," van Hove told NYT, who was asked to keep it a secret from the cast. "Confidential is confidential."
"It was very strange," he continued, going on to say that many of the themes in Lazarus tellingly examine life after death. "It’s a very existential drama about why are we here, what does it mean, is there something after we are gone?"
In the wake of his death, both the stage show and final album can be as final parting gifts from the artist. Hauntingly, the title song from Lazarus opens with the lyrics, "Look up here, I'm in heaven" – sung by the show's star, Michael C. Hall.
"The production of Lazarus’ and also this new album, "Blackstar," when you look at them both, you find so many lines and phrases that meant so much more than people knew before today,” van Hove told NYT. "It’s like two testaments," he said.
Lazarus features new songs specially composed by Mr. Bowie as well as new arrangements of previously recorded songs. Inspired by Walter Tevis' best-selling 1963 novel "The Man Who Fell to Earth," the story follows Thomas Newton – played by Hall – a human-looking and lovelorn alien who has been abandoned on the planet. The production officially opened Dec. 7.
The cast of Lazarus also includes Cristin Milioti (Once), Michael Esper, Krystina Alabado (American Idiot), Sophia Anne Caruso (The Nether), Nicholas Christopher (Whorl Inside A Loop), Lynn Craig (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson), Bobby Moreno (Year of the Rooster), Charlie Pollock (The Wild Party) and Brynn Williams (Bye Bye Birdie).