Maybe its my age, but before working on David Bowie's Lazarus, if you asked me what Bowie meant to me, I would probably say:
He was the iconic Goblin King in my favourite childhood film Labyrinth (a strong joint first with The Goonies)
He narrated the Snowman - which I would watch every Christmas Eve with my Family as a child and cry my eyes out at the end every time without fail.
And my favourite of his songs are China Girl and Let's Dance.
When I accepted the role of Elly in the London production of Lazarus, it became clear that out of the four prinicipal roles, I would be the only one that hadn't met and worked with the main man himself. He passed away shortly after the show opened in New York. I wondered if I would be like the 'new kid on the block' - always to feel like I'd missed out in New York. Would it be as special and poignant for the show and for me?
It was day two of rehearsals for Lazarus - the eagerly awaited David Bowie Theatre Musical (I find it difficult to describe it as a musical, for me it's an art installation) - and I was having a music call to go through my songs with our musical director Henry Hey.
Lazarus had only recently had its world premier off-Broadway in New York for a very short run but most importantly, David Bowie was very much alive and part of that creative process, closely collaborating with co-writer Enda Walsh and director Ivo Van Hove. At that time it wasn't widely known that he was ill. Even on the night when he took a bow with the Lazarus Company, did anyone know just how ill he was. The press night pictures show Bowie's face lit up like a kid in a sweet shop, taking a bow onstage - it's clear to see just how much this project meant to him.
Bowie passed away shortly after that - the NY company were informed the morning they were due to record the Lazarus Soundtrack - which they went ahead with despite the awful news, determined to give him the best possible recording that I doubt could ever be replicated.
One of the songs my character Elly sings, is the well known Changes (ch-ch-ch-ch-changes) from his Hunky Dory album. I was sat in a very large rehearsal room, just me, my understudy and MD Henry. We were about to sing through Changes when with a cheeky glint in his eye and in his laid back jazz swagger said "I'm just gonna play something for you....it gives you an idea of how he wanted this song to be....this was his idea."
In the silence came a piano and the voice - so intimate and casual - I felt like a like a fly on the wall - Bowie gently sang the introduction to Changes...very much marked and not 'performed' which was all the more special. It had a whole new layer of melancholy...a sadness and frailty which lent itself so well to Elly and her situation in the story.
The clip ended and we sat in silence- slightly in awe - to think that no one else will ever hear that. It really brought home just how incredibly special this piece was - to everyone that had worked on it the first time round with Bowie in New York, and to us 'newbies' bringing it back to his hometown. I think it was from that moment that it really hit me. Even though he had passed away months before I would ever get to meet him, his energy was still here - through his collaborators that loved and respected his work so very much. And so he is still here.
I like to think he's watching when I begin that beautiful song onstage. My mind always goes back to that magical moment in the rehearsal room - that was my moment with the Star Man... David Bowie.