Writer: Sven Ratzke
Music Director: Charly Zastrau
Reviewer: Diamando Stratakos
There are people who believe David Bowie truly was a Starman. He came down from above, graced us but briefly with his presence, and then disappeared again into the Heavens. Sven Ratzke’s tribute cabaret, Starman, inspired by the iconic David Bowie, leads this reviewer to believe that Mr. Ratzke is a member of this group.
Ratzke, a self-proclaimed “transgressive European Entertainer extraordinaire,” is most notable for playingthe title role in the Berlin production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. When he first enters the stage of Joe’s Pub, he wears a costume that equally channels Dracula, geishas, and the baroque era, but full of glitz and sequins. David Bowie would have been impressed.
He immediately begins a witty repartee with the audience, making it clear that everyone is a potential player in the show. As this production is the first time the show has been performed in English, it’s astonishing just how masterful Ratzke’s improvisation is. No bald head, hot guy, or big-haired woman is safe. Starmanis reminiscent of Hedwig in many ways, and one can see whyRatzke was declared by John Cameron Mitchell to be “the best Hedwig [he’s] ever seen.”
Joe’s Pub is the perfect venue for this cabaret. Feeling the vibrations of the subway beneath the floor gives the impression that the entire audience might take off at any moment and fly to the stars.
The list of Bowie songs presented include Rebel Rebel, Time, and Heroes, to name a few. With a pared down band ofjust piano, bass, and drums, it’s a jazzy Bowie. Ratzke performs the songs well. He is most enthralling when he leaves behind an affected, wispy, ethereal voice, and let’s his emotions come through. His rendition ofLife on Marsis particularly haunting. Ratzke honors Bowie’s originality by giving the audience new versions of well-known hits.
The show itself is hard to follow and feels a bit like an LSD trip through time and space, but that may be the intention. Ratzke channels a cast of characters ranging from Andy Warhol to the fictional French chauffeur of Elizabeth Taylor. He is amusing throughout, even laugh-out-loud funny at times, but there isn’t much sense to be made from putting together each of the individual anecdotes.
Starman also falls short with the two original songs by Ratzke and collaborator Rachelle Garniez. It’s hard to be compared to Bowie, and these songs don’t come close.
Ratzke delivers in paying tribute to an icon. The show may not make narrative sense, but he is a colorful and gifted performer. These things combined with a great venue make for a fun evening out.
Runs until26 May 2016