“Lazarus” was already sold out at the New York Theatre Workshop before the news of creator David Bowie’s death this week. But now it’s giving “Hamilton” a run for its sky-high ticket prices.
Three performances have been added, extending the show’s run till Jan. 20, and tickets, if you can get them, are going for north of $1, 300 on the scalper’s market. NYTW is charging $1, 000 to $2, 500 a ticket for the final performance, with its sticker-shocker prices benefiting the theater’s education department.
There is, of course, talk of a transfer to a commercial off-Broadway theater, or even Broadway, in the spring. But cut through the hype, and you’ll find skepticism.
“I thought the show was brilliant, ” a Broadway producer says, “but it’s pretty inscrutable. No one thought it was commercial until this week.”
This isn’t the first time Bowie has created a frenzy in the theater. When he stepped into the role of John Merrick in “The Elephant Man” in 1980, the Booth Theatre’s box office exploded.
“It was pandemonium, ” recalls producer Elizabeth I. McCann. “It got to the point where we had to sneak him out through the tunnels underground that connect the Shubert theaters. Everybody was waiting for him at the Booth, but he’d come out at the Broadhurst.”
Bowie’s dressing room became the place to be after the show, a sort of mini Studio 54. Everybody from Oona O’Neill Chaplin to Philip Glass and Mick Jagger would hang out there.
“There are certain people whose dressing rooms become the total focus of New York, ” says Josh Ellis, the show’s press agent. “You looked around and you thought, ‘How is it possible all these people are in the same room?’”
Bowie had never done a play before director Jack Hofsiss approached him. Bowie said yes immediately and Hofsiss called McCann with the news.
“I said, ‘Who is David Bowie? Will he sell any tickets?’ ” McCann says. “That’s what a theater purist I was. But let me tell you, he was the best Merrick we had.”
Because the producers were afraid the New York press would pounce on his first performance, Bowie quietly stepped into a tour of the show in Denver and then Chicago.
Producer Nelle Nugent, who oversaw the Chicago run, says she entered Bowie’s dressing room one night as he put on his makeup. “I’m not ready to go to New York, ” he said, then smiled and added: “But I will be in four weeks!”
“I could have smacked him, ” Nugent says. “But that’s who he was — he could make a stupid ass joke to the producer, and then turn in a great performance.
“And he was luminous, ” she adds. “The way the light hit his skin made him seem otherworldly.”
The critics agreed. Wrote Clive Barnes in The Post: “David Bowie is giving one of the greatest acting performances I have seen in years. He has also made the most brilliant Broadway debut in recent memory.”
Bowie was in the show for just three months. He never appeared on Broadway again. As he told Tim Rice, who interviewed him then for a British TV show, it was the role that attracted him to “The Elephant Man.”
“I have an attraction to freaks and isolated people, ” Bowie said. “I collect stuff like that.”
Three cheers for Tommy Tune! After his friend Chita Rivera injured herself, he’s winging in from Palm Beach, where he’s performing, to sub for her at the Café Carlyle through next week. He’ll tap, sing and talk about his extraordinary career in the theater. Showbiz gallantry at its best!