David Bowie was 'an ideal, extraordinary partner,' says the theater staging 'Lazarus,' his new musical

When David Bowie died Sunday, the new stage musical that he co-wrote, “Lazarus,” was nearing the end of its world-premiere run at the off-Broadway New York Theatre Workshop. The production is inspired by Walter Tevis’ 1963 novel “The Man Who Fell to Earth” and centers on the character Thomas Jerome Newton, whom Bowie played in the 1976 screen adaptation.

FULL OBITUARY: David Bowie, transformative musician, 69 >>

“Lazarus” picks up 30 years after where the movie leaves off, with a script by Bowie and Enda Walsh, new songs composed by Bowie for the stage and Michael C. Hall ("Six Feet Under," "Dexter") in the lead role. According to Playbill, “Lazarus” (extended to Jan. 20) was the fastest-selling production in New York Theatre Workshop’s 36-year history.

James Nicola, New York Theatre Workshop’s artistic director, spoke Monday about his reaction to the news and his experience of collaborating with Bowie:

Are you planning any commemoration?

We are in the middle of conversations about what we collectively want to do. There's a lot of feelings and a lot of thought. So we haven't completed anything. We feel strongly that we should continue and perform as we planned. That is probably the most important thing at this stage.

Had you known he was ill?

No. Many of us heard rumors. When you work with someone of that magnitude of celebrity, you hear a lot of rumors and you ignore them. But no, we did not know.

So you were as surprised as everyone?

Yes.

Did he attend rehearsals or production meetings?

Yes. I was surprised and impressed with the kind of collaboration he had with his team. He was conscious of how his legend or celebrity could intimidate or disturb the creative process. He was very smart and wise and sensitive about being there when he needed to be ... but also to step back and let them do their work. He felt to me like an ideal, extraordinary partner. He was there when he needed to be at crucial moments. When he wasn't at rehearsals, he was always reachable.

Where did rehearsals take place?

Here [in New York].

Did he attend the opening?

Yes, he was at the opening -- early December.

Are there plans for the show to travel?

I've heard all kinds of interest and scenarios and so forth. I would hope so. It's such a strong work of art.

Does any memory stand out from your collaboration with him?

The thing I'm struck with today is to now look back at the piece knowing what journey he was on. To be really moved by the imagery of this construction of this imaginary rocket -- wanting to transcend the flesh ... to some higher level of being, consciousness. I didn't quite see it so vividly as I do now.

How long had he been working on this show with Walsh?

It's difficult to say... about two years, maybe more.

david.ng@latimes.com

@DavidNgLAT

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