Musical theater may now be rife with productions that rip their plot lines from a Disney confection or follow the “Mamma Mia” trajectory of transforming a poppy artist’s track list into a romantic comedy fit for a national tour. But the buzzy new David Bowie musical “Lazarus” (staged now through Jan. 20 at the New York Theatre Workshop) debunks this commonality with a surprisingly esoteric outlook on the boundaries of contemporary musicals.
Written by Bowie and “Once” scribe Enda Walsh and directed by the experimental Belgian Ivo van Hove, the madcap play spins 17 Bowie songs (four of them new) into an interpretive narrative inspired by the former Ziggy Stardust’s turn in the 1976 film “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”
It stars Michael C. Hall as Bowie’s otherworldly protagonist Newton and Cristin Milioti as Elly, who on Thursday evening will perform on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” along with the show’s ensemble.
Newton — an alcoholic hermit and onetime successful businessman who also happens to be an alien disguised in human form — discovers his need to return to his native planet with insight from a little girl’s spirit (Sophia Anne Caruso), and his schizophrenic assistant (Milioti). The spirit creates a spaceship for Newton’s intergalactic relocation, necessitating Caruso’s plot-appropriate, angelic interpretation of Bowie’s “Life on Mars.” It’s one of the show’s more straightforward moments.
Frequent van Hove collaborator An D’Huys designed the musical’s costumes on a shoestring off-Broadway budget by sourcing a majority of the casts’ wares from local Manhattan thrift shops as well as at Century 21.
D’Huys created Hall’s costume — a louche button-down and tailored pants ensemble meant to look like pajamas – entirely of a flesh-colored fabric reminiscent of Band-Aids. The same warm beige covers Hall’s on-stage apartment walls, creating a bleak, but visually arresting combination — the head-to-toe likes of which have recently appeared on the runways of experimental fashion labels Eckhaus Latta and Jacquemus.
An 11-year veteran of Ann Demeulemeester’s design studio and graduate of Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Arts, D’Huys spoke to WWD about her concept for the musical’s wardrobe:
WWD: How did you become involved in costume design?
An D’Huys: I started immediately working in theater and television after school. About 12 years ago, Ann Demeulemeester saw my costumes and asked me to join her team. Around that time, I started working with Ivo; it was very interesting for me to combine theater and fashion with what I learned from Ann Demeulemeester — that you can tell a story using different fabrics and different colors.
WWD: How did the process of costuming Lazarus work for you? Was there a lot of back-and-forth between you and Ivo?
D’Huys: Sometimes I get scripts and already know what I’m going to do with them. This one was quite open, but also quite different because there was not a lot of information [in the script] about how the characters should look. [Cristin’s] blue hair is very important in the script, but that was maybe the only thing that was really precise.
I knew that Newton was living in his apartment for years and was a really bad alcoholic, and I knew he was wealthy. At first I was thinking about pajamas, but it didn’t quite work onstage, so I tried a solution — that he had a monochromatic set. I think it’s a good choice — it’s not a pajama, but it looks like very chic pajamas.
WWD: The flesh color of his costume is on-par with the recent collections of some experimental fashion designers. Given that this is an experimental production, did that cross your mind?
D’Huys: No, but I was quite nervous to try [the color] on Michael C. Hall. When I saw him in it for the first time, it matched immediately with his skin and hair. It’s not an easy color, I could imagine if you put it on someone else, it would be quite terrible.
WWD: Where did you source the majority of the production’s wardrobe?
D’Huys: I bought a lot of the clothes secondhand — we work for a small theater, so there is not a huge budget to scramble up. It’s nice to work with used clothes because they have already a history, a story to tell. It was a combination of thrift stores, Century 21, and an old theater’s stock wardrobe department. Costumes are not only about finding pretty things, but also how people move.
WWD: The show’s meaning is largely up to the audience’s interpretation. How would you describe its overall message?
D’Huys: I don’t think there is a real message. The message is — if you have a dream, you never can die, it can bring you a lot of consolation.