Reviewer: Sarah Holt
Live on Mars is billed as ‘a bold new stage production celebrating iconic pop hero David Bowie; his music, artistry, style and showmanship.’ The show’s billing doesn’t really do it any favours. Essentially, Live on Mars is a series of Bowie songs, performed by a live band.
The ‘bold’ in the marketing hype probably relates to the live video that’s played on a screen at the back of the stage to punctuate and accompany the songs. Footage ranges from short snippets of interviews with Bowie, to pop art-style animations and footage of Bowie’s changing face morphing into itself in a sort of time-lapse technology fashion. It’s engaging, it’s clever, but it perhaps falls short of bold.
What is completely true in the billing is the idea that the show is a celebration of Bowie’s music. Alex Thomas – the front man of Live on Mars – sounds effortlessly like the legendary singer. He’s got the British-accented baritone down to a fine art. It’s a come-to-bed wink of a voice.
The Live on Mars band are hyper-talented, too. The piano plays out like there are 20 fingers on the keys. The guitar performances are jaw-to-floor, too. Thomas also blows his saxophone performances out of the park. It helps the celebration of the music that Thomas looks effortlessly like Bowie, too. He’s got all the facial expressions, like the eye crinkles and the thin-lipped pout. One thing that’s lacking, though, is the physicality of Bowie. Thomas’ onstage moves are a little too contained at times.
Costumes are a little bit of a let-down. There’s a moment in the first half where Thomas leaves the stage for five or so minutes. As time lapses, expectations grow of the costume he might come out in. However, when Thomas returns to the stage, he’s just wearing another suit. Of course, in the context of a musical celebration, this makes sense. There’s even a video clip in the show in which Bowie explains how the dress of a show is not as important as the content.
However, when the show blurb describes the production as a celebration of Bowie’s showmanship as well as everything else, some audience members might be left wanting more.
On the whole, though, the majority of the audience are not left wanting more. It takes audiences a while to get going. Staging the show in a theatre context certainly makes people feel less permitted to get up from their seats to dance. There’s an irony in the theatre as Thomas sings ‘Jean Genie, let yourself go’ to an audience of seated people. However, when Thomas actually gives the audience verbal permission to let themselves go, in the second half, at least half the audience gets up to dance. Some even file to the aisles so they can really jump around.
Live on Mars may not quite live up to the marketing blurb. However, it’s more than a run of the mill tribute show. What it lacks in costumes and theatricality, it makes up for in musical talent and vocal skill. Which is all most Bowie fans will want, anyway.
Reviewed on 24 May 2017 | Image: Contributed