The sell-out, thrice-extended, New York Theatre Workshop production of the new musical Lazarus by playwright Enda Walsh (Once) and David Bowie with direction by the busy Ivo van Hove opened this past week. The show, which has become the hottest Off-Broadway ticket in town, is a kind of quasi-sequel to "The Man Who Fell to Earth," the 1976 sci-fi film that starred Bowie as an alien who comes to Earth for supplies but can’t manage to leave. The new play uses the same central character, Thomas Jerome Newton, but imagines his life some 30 years later. The score features both old and new Bowie songs. Michael C. Hall stars as the homesick alien.
Even though the show is sold out, the reviews did matter, since there is some veteran producing muscle behind the enterprise, and there is always the possibility that the popular show might move to a commercial run.
The critical corps seemed, on the whole, to be giving the show the benefit of the doubt. They found positive things to say even while admitting the whole abstract, arty venture didn’t quite hold together in a satisfying way.
The Times called it a "great-sounding, great-looking and mind-numbing new musical built around songs by David Bowie." While AP said, "The plot may be murky, but van Hove's direction is precise, and it's crystal clear that the production is packed with talent." To illustrate that this is no ordinary musical, Rolling Stone sent a critic to review it. The magazine said, "At its core, Lazarus is a two-hour meditation on grief and lost hope (with no intermission), but it takes so many wild, fantastical, eye-popping turns that it never drags."
But Time Out was having none of it. "There's plenty of static on the video saturating this eye-candy-stuffed staging by Ivo van Hove," wrote the weekly. "Beyond that, there's precious little cheer to be had at Lazarus, which is coolly depressive and chicly designed (by Jan Verweyveld), as it circles around a dramatic void."
The Chicago Tribune put the problem differently: "Lazarus has the visual sophistication, the pan-sexual weirdness, the historicism, the eclectic musical rush of the gorgeous. But in the theater, the shadows of characters in song need flesh, bones and reasons to believe in them."
Lazarus recently extended again. It is now scheduled to run through Jan. 20, 2016.
On Broadway, the new revival of the musical adaptation of the novel The Color Purple, starring Jennifer Hudson and Cynthia Erivo, directed by John Doyle, opened Dec. 10 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. Based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a young woman who overcomes oppression to discover her sense of self-worth, the staging began life as a pared-down Menier Chocolate Factory production in London in 2013.
The original Broadway production of The Color Purple ran a decent amount of time, but it was never a critics’ darling. Reviews criticized everything from the script to the score to the direction. Given that, the notices of the new revival represent an absolute critical rebirth for the show.
"Give thanks this morning, children of Broadway, and throw in a hearty hallelujah," wrote the Times, in a review that could double as PR copy. "The Color Purple has been born again, and its conversion is a glory to behold...The current version is a slim, fleet-footed beauty, simply attired and beguilingly modest. Don't be deceived, though, by its air of humility. There's a deep wealth of power within its restraint."
"Wow, what a difference a more-focused production makes," stated The Hollywood Reporter. "Director John Doyle and an electric cast assembled around transcendent British newcomer Cynthia Erivo as Celie have given the show a deep — and deeply satisfying — rethink. This revelatory overhaul is characterized by its grace, restraint and soaring spirituality, peeling back the clutter to expose the life-affirming material's molten emotional core. It remakes a patchy musical as a thrilling one."
Time Out put the transformation wittily, saying, "Seeing The Color Purple on Broadway, a decade after its premiere, is like meeting an old friend who has gotten her life together since the last time you saw her. It seems more confident in itself, surer in its sexuality, and it's lost a lot of weight."
The well-received Off-Broadway prison drama Whorl Inside a Loop may soon be transferring to Broadway. The initial news, reported by Michael Musto, came directly from Sherie Rene Scott, who co-created and starred in the play about prison life and the power of theatre.
"We were working it out today. It’s moving with a star," Scott told Musto, implying that she would not be performing in the Broadway production.
When reached for confirmation, Scott walked back on those comments. She told Playbill.com: "Michael Mayer and I merely expressed that we’re hoping to move the show to Broadway and that we’re considering all options, including the possibility of a star playing the role of The Volunteer."
Whorl Inside a Loop, a new play by Dick Scanlan and Scott, was inspired by the duo’s real-life experiences teaching drama to inmates in a prison.
The Wiz Live!, the latest holiday-season live performance of a musical offered by NBC, was broadcast Dec. 3. Led by newcomer Shanice Williams in the role of Dorothy, initial ratings indicated that the musical performed better than last year's Peter Pan but not as well as the network's first live offering, The Sound of Music.
The Wiz Live!, according to the Hollywood Reporter, scored a 7.9 rating, 13 share. (It also managed a 4.4 rating among adults 18-49.) In comparison, Peter Pan Live! drew a 5.9 rating, 19 share, and The Sound of Music Live! had a 10.9 rating, 18 share.
The NFL game on CBS had the biggest ratings of the evening, bringing in an 8.7 rating, 15 share. One would imagine the two shows attracted slightly different audiences.