"Old Words into Something New": David Bowie and Enda Walsh's Lazarus


Michael Jaros


Lazarus, a musical co-written by Irish playwright Enda Walsh and the musician David Bowie, generated a huge amount of hype when it was announced for the 2016 season of the New York Theatre Workshop. Critical reception when it opened, however, was mixed at best. When the show later transferred to London, reviewers were somewhat more positive, but there was a significant new development: in the interim David Bowie had died, succumbing to cancer. Our understanding of the musical must be reframed to incorporate Bowie’s death. A consummate lifelong performer, Bowie intended for his own death, his passing out of the narrative, to be an integral part of the performance. I argue that this act of surrogation was an important idea from the script’s inception. Moreover, the playwright Enda Walsh was selected as a collaborator because of the unique and sustained way his dramaturgy deals with death and performance, especially as represented in the play he premiered at the Galway Arts Festival immediately before he began work on Lazarus, Ballyturk. Ultimately, the essay suggests that Walsh and Bowie sought to generate what Jill Dolan has termed a utopian performative moment in the theatre, where audiences might collectively mourn Bowie through the actors who performed the artist’s music in his corporeal absence.

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