Casting David Bowie in Musical Adaptations: Labyrinth, The Last Temptation and More
David Bowie has been working on a musical adaptation of the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth for some time now, and today fans were greeted with the news that the title character Lazarus would be portrayed by Michael C. Hall of Dexter fame when the off-Broadway theater production begins its run later this year. Unfortunately, alas, Bowie himself won't play a role in the actual stage portion of the production, although he will work with Tony-winning writer Enda Walsh (Once) to write original songs and arrangements for the performance.
Hall is a solid choice for the role of an alien who comes to Earth, seeking water for his famished planet, only to be turned to the temptations of drugs and sex. If you've watched him in Dexter, you know how much emotion he can bring to a character that struggles with expressing emotions. Hall has a decent block of Broadway work as well however, including stints in Hedwig and The Angry Inch, Chicago and Cabaret.
It got us thinking...if we were to create musical versions of other Bowie films, who would we put in the Thin White Duke's shoes?
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)
Certainly one of Bowie's more challenging and underrated roles in film, the performer's turn as Major Jack "Strafer" Celliers during Nagisa Oshima's Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence demands an actor that can sincerely portray the sexually ambiguous nature of Bowie's character, along with all of the other traumatic occurrences that take place during a film set in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp during World War II. Celliers serves as a foil, perhaps even a romantic one, to the character of Captain Yonoi (played by Ryuichi Sakamoto), but there is no hope to be had. One man is executed before the war is over and the other is executed after the war has concluded. We recommend Andrew Garfield for a potentially breakout role...he was Tony-nominated for his role in Death of A Salesman during 2012...does he have the voice to make a musical out of Merry Christmas?
If any of the films suggested in this list have the potential to hit Broadway, Labyrinth is probably at the top. Although a commercial failure upon release, children of that generation and later have formed a cult audience around what is probably Bowie's best-known film appearance. Also consider the fantasy realm in which the film takes place and the current pro-puppet attitude on Broadway (Avenue Q, Warhorse) and this Henson Studios is just begging for a rebirth. Bowie of course plays Jareth, the goblin king, and we're going to play the Neil Patrick Harris card here. Sure, it seems like a obvious notion, casting NPH in a prominent role in a musical, but think about it: for all of wacky musical numbers he's done on awards shows, rarely have we gotten to see him play anyone...weird (outside of Dr. Horrible). Just imagine him with Jareth's blonde coif and the rest of the glimmering outfit will just fall into place.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
If you think Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ is too touchy for Broadway...you obviously haven't been on Broadway recently. Religion is as fair game as anything, from The Book of Mormon to Jesus Christ Superstar. The latter is actually a rather watered-down version of Christ, one of the most controversial films of the '80s. Bowie, alas, did not play Jesus, but he did play a rather hard-up Pontius Pilate (give Scorsese credit...while many directors try to make Pilate out to be a sympathetic character, Bowie wants blood). It's not a headlining role, to be sure, but it's a necessary one that Bowie performs with his usual pleasant intensity. We're going for a more strapping Pilate, played by an actor who has excelled at keeping his cool while dropping the axe for years on Mad Men: Jon Hamm.
The focus of the film Basquiat should of course be upon the work of real-life artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (and the excellent performance of Jeffrey Wright in the role) but inevitably attention heads back to one of the most possessing cultural figures of the 20th Century, the artist's friend and sponsor Andy Warhol. The pop art figure dominated the cultural landscape of New York City simply by knowing how to present himself, and anyone planning on featuring Warhol in a stage of film project needs to present him in a similar way, regardless of how little the plot focuses on him. If you want a replication-level performance, it's tough to do much better than Daniel Day-Lewis. The guy takes method acting to the extreme, and the results are usually good. And yes, he's sung a bit...although Nine was one of his least popular works.
The Prestige (2007)
This production—a battle between two turn-of-the-century magicians—hardly revolves around Bowie's character at all, yet the musician plays one of the most curious characters in both science history and regular history: Nikola Tesla. We want to throw out Joseph Gordon-Levitt's name to play the genius and theoretical physicist...and maybe not just for the sake of a Prestige musical but a whole project dedicated to Tesla himself.