“The Man Who Fell to Earth,” the 1976 Nicolas Roeg movie starring an impossibly young and beautiful David Bowie, was initially a 1963 novel by Walter Tevis.  In writing “Lazarus,” Bowie and Enda Walsh (a Tony Award winner for “Once”) skipped over the movie and went back to the original novel.  Although stripped of the film’s unearthly sci-fi effects, the artsy stage piece has been directed (between Broadway revivals of Arthur Miller plays “A View from the Bridge” and “The Crucible”) by the iconoclast Belgian director Ivo van Hove, which guarantees a more theatrical kind of weirdness. 

Michael C. Hall (famous from Showtime’s “Dexter,” but formidable on stage in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) plays Thomas Jerome Newton, the much-too-human alien who over-indulged in earthly delights and found himself trapped here.

“Here” is a featureless room that, as designed and lighted by Jan Versweyveld, manages to convey a sense of foreboding. There’s a mussed-up bed at one end and a refrigerator (a throwback to the movie) at the other.  But the walls are apt to throb with video projections (by Tal Yarden), and the back wall consists of two dark-tinted windows fronting a very fine seven-piece band.  There are some new songs in the show (orchestrations and arrangements by Henry Hey), but most of them are vintage Bowie and deeply appreciated during the many dull moments in this baffling show.

It’s thirty years on since Newton made his fortune but lost his selfless purpose in coming down to earth.  He now claims not to miss his dazzling previous life — not the work or the travel, not even the power.

But there’s still a thirst in him for something he can’t quench with the gin he constantly guzzles. Or even the pure water that first brought him down to earth from his own parched planet.

He could be longing for love. A girl he loved long ago returns to torment him — two versions of her, actually, neither one enlightening as a character, but one of them played with intense conviction by Cristin Milioti.

He might also be yearning for lost innocence. He’s extremely protective of a little girl in a white dress, played by Sophia Anne Caruso, who also appeared in “The Nether” and seems to gravitate to obtuse theater pieces.

Or maybe he’s going for the big one and hungering for death. If that’s the case, he’s not very hospitable when the deathly Valentine (played with quiet menace by Michael Esper, in great voice) comes to visit with three masked figures dressed in black.

Whatever the existential crisis that has Newton thrashing about in his unmade bed, it hasn’t affected his vocal chords. Hall has more songs to sing than any other character in the show, and although they all seem to give his character great pain, Hall delivers them with all he’s got.  But nothing he says (or sings) is especially illuminating about the show — or why we’re still here, puzzling over what it all means.

Off Broadway Review: ‘Lazarus,’ with Michael C. Hall and Music by David Bowie

New York Theater Workshop; 199 seats; $99 top. Opened Dec. 7, 2015. Reviewed Dec. 4. Running time: TWO HOURS.

  • Production: A New York Theater Workshop production, by special arrangement with Robert Fox and Risky Folio, Inc., of a play in one act by David Bowie and Enda Walsh, inspired by the novel, "The Man Who Fell to Earth," by Walter Tevis.
  • Crew: Directed by Ivo van Hove. Set & lighting, Jan Versweyveld; costumes, An D'Huys; sound, Brian Ronan; video, Tal Yarden; music director, Henry Hey; choreographer, Annie-B Parson; dramaturg, Jan Peter Gerrits; production stage manager, James Latus.
  • Cast: Michael C. Hall, Michael Esper, Cristin Milioti, Sophia Anne Caruso.