Susan Ingram – Where are we now? The cultural translation of David Bowie’s Lazarus
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Two months before his death in January 2016, David Bowie had the pleasure of attending the New York première of his first musical, Lazarus, which followed the fate of Thomas Newton, the character he had played in his first film, The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976, dir. Nicholas Roeg). The misadventures of an alien who found himself in a hostile environment and ended up an incarcerated alcoholic had resonated with Bowie when he made the film, as it came at the end of his drug-addled America period, after which he had fled for the healing anonymity and productivity of Berlin. After his death, to the surprise of many, Bowie’s musical quickly found its way onto German-language stages. Of the over a dozen productions that have since taken place, only the first two in New York and London, where Michael C. Hall played Newton, were entirely in English, until the show premiered in Melbourne in May 2019.
In this paper Susan Ingram examines the appeal of Lazarus for German-speaking audiences by analyzing four of the musical’s 17 songs: “‘Heroes,'” “Where Are We Now?,” “This Is Not America,” and “Valentine’s Day.” She argues that because Bowie already laid the groundwork for such work by returning to the first album in his Berlin triptych in his penultimate album The Next Day, this translation work has been able to follow suit and has encouraged each production to be performed in such a way as to maximize affective intensity for local audiences.