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Tribute to the Starman

The audience lights dimmed, the stage lights fired up and we were immediately blown away with the familiar dirty opening riffs of Rebel Rebel.

Anyone say goosebumps…?

This week we were invited to check out CHANGES: Theatrical Tribute to the Music of David Bowie, a beautiful collaboration between Bare Naked Theatre, and Melbourne rock band, Robot Child running at Gasworks Art Park until 6 August.

I love Bowie. Full stop. I had no idea what to expect from what was described as a ‘reimagination of his songs through the power of theatre…’ but I was about to find out.

Bare Naked pride themselves in being visually a little out there. If you are expecting to see a traditional stage musical performance piece, you’ve come to the wrong show. With zero dialogue, this tribute is purely about the man and the music. The cast dance, sing and make art with their bodies and the various props they are given to work with.

And the band plays.

Beautifully.

It’s a sweet, simple, but intellectual tribute, and Bowie fans will freak out.

Jeff Wortman, front man of Robot Child  is a gorgeous, charismatic lead as the ever-evolving, chameleon Bowie persona and takes us visually and musically through the many changing faces and artistic directions Bowie took in his long career.

A fab chemistry is evident between ‘chameleon Bowie’ and his earlier ‘Mod’ / Ziggy Stardust persona, respectfully portrayed on stage by Director Kendall-Jane Rundle who early on appears in this character prominently, but as the show continues hibernates, disappears, is killed off and revived repeatedly and finishes with a playful embrace between the two.

Two leads. Two very different leads, much like Bowie himself and his two different eye colours.

I interpreted the performance piece one way, but there were so many different layers and and messages I just had to clarify them with Director Kendall-Jane Rundle who was kind enough to elaborate on her vision for us.

‘I wanted to allude to the androgynous nature of David Bowie, the man and his characters, but did not want to cheapen this by creating a ‘version’ of him. So I decided to go the full monty and use both a man and a woman. Bowie was 100% committed to every image and gender bender allusion he created and so I decided to give it 200%. This also gave me the opportunity to create a few moments of seeing the performer and his onstage persona alongside the very “human” being who created them.’

[As the Ziggy persona] ‘I was always ever present – if not embodying him, I was like a shadow or a “thing he couldn’t shake”. After watching reels upon reels of little known interviews with Bowie, one of his (many) greatest battles / laments / frustrations was that he could never shake his first creation – Ziggy. No matter what he did or how he tried to reinvent himself, people continued to refer to and ask him about Ziggy. He claimed that Ziggy was a character he created on the fly with no meaning other than the artist feeling like an exposed alien but that fans and media built him into a mammoth being that followed Bowie like a ghost wherever he went.

Only towards the end of his career did he feel that people were starting to see his other characters and himself in their own light and not as somehow connected to Ziggy….. Hence Jeff’s [Wortman] on-off love affair with me, my ever presence, my moments of taunting absence only to be brought back with vengeance. And, like Bowie, only at the very end could he step out as himself without the baggage of ‘me’.

The set is littered with broken up mannequin parts which lay dormant, and are at times used by the cast in their performance. We interpreted this two fold. Partially a salute to him being a futuristic champion for androgyny and modern day gender fluidity, but the broken pieces to us, were reflective of the effects of mega fame, when every person on the street wants their own piece of you. For us, this was further cemented when some of the performance content moved quickly through themes of hero worship, groupie-dom, and character assassination, perfectly enacted by the cast and band.

Told you it was deep.

Having myself gone to an impromptu Bowie tribute night at Cherry Bar the night of his passing earlier this year, I’ll never forget the moment when Starman came on. I’ve never experienced such a beautiful, sense of belonging, as everyone on the dance floor, freak flags flying high, arms waving up in the air sang along. When Robot Child belted out Starman, and the gorgeous team from Bare Naked skipped around the stage, following a kaftan clad ‘reborn’ representation of Bowie, it brought back the best kind of chills.

I missed my absolute most favourite Bowie song, The Prettiest Star – a testament to just how many hits this guy actually had, you literally can’t fit them all into just one show. But all the big ones where there so fans can sing along, or just quietly dig the vibe like we did.

I’m not going to spoil the experience with a play by play, so if you are fan of David Bowie, a lover of love, art and music, do yourself a favour and get along to this gem while it’s still on.

Ten points if you bring me back a T-shirt. x

Fun fact: Gold Logie winner Waleed Aly, plays a ridiculously mean, dirty guitar riff on lead guitar for Robot Child.

Where: Gasworks Arts Park, 21 Graham Street, Albert Park
Dates: Now – Saturday 6 August
Times: Wed – Fri 8.30pm, Sat @ 1.30pm and 8.30pm
More Info: Check out their website

We Know Melbourne exclusive: Win 1 of 3 double passes to Changes: A Theatrical Tribute to the Music of Bowie on the 3rd of August. Tell us in 25 words or less your favourite Bowie song below. Competition ends 31st July 2016.

CHANGES: A THEATRICAL TRIBUTE TO THE MUSIC OF DAVID BOWIE