Presented by: Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed: 22 June 2016
When this show was announced late last year, David Bowie was still alive. A revered icon of fashion and music, Bowie transcended genres to become one of the truly great singer/songwriters people have known. Since then, the man has passed onto an eternal world of stylish pleasure, with his fans mourning the loss of his talents and alluring musical craftsmanship. Unafraid in keeping his flame alive is Sven Ratzke, whose show Starman forms a tribute to Bowie’s 1970’s glam-rock era with the likes of Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust brought back to life. Whilst cynics may label this a ‘karaoke cover-fest’, others can see this as an ode to a rebel who never stopped pushing the boundaries whose thirst for continual creative improvement inspired generations.
Booming onto the stage like a tightly wound-toy, Sven Ratzke initially showed the energetic fervour Bowie displayed in his early years. Re-interpreting songs such as Starman, Rock and Roll Suicide, Space Oddity and others, Ratzke’s stylistic approach worked for some of them. For others like Ashes to Ashes it fell decidedly flat with his over-the-top renderings diluting the song’s impact. His performance was far too theatrical even by Bowie standards, coming across as more Iggy Pop than Bowie. Credit goes to his backing band of keyboardist, bass and drummer, who kept up with his antics, even if sometimes the songs drifted away from Ratzke’s grasp. There was a feeling Ratzke seemed a bit out of his depth with the mastery of Bowie’s works, undecided in how to convey their impact, instead going for a scatter-shot approach rather than something more formally structured.
The loose format extended to the moments between songs where Ratzke indulged in various stream of consciousness monologues. Although Bowie also did these during shows, they were never done at the expense of the pacing or songs. Here Ratzke goes into overdrive, dropping celebrity names at random without effectively marrying them to the songs he performs. Although he interacted with the very eagerly pleased audience, you were never quite sure what the point of his ramblings was. This had the effect of deadening any life his show had where all he needed was to sing the songs to provide a powerful production. Ratzke’s self-indulgent humour soon became tiresome and very un-Bowie-like. Where Bowie was a master raconteur, Ratzke came across as a poor facsimile, desperately using poorly judged witticisms to pad out his unfocused show.
To his credit, Ratzke knew how to tease out the best elements of certain tracks and displayed a great vocal range. It’s a shame this wasn’t highlighted as well as it should have been, with the costuming and lighting effectively conjuring the mood of the selected tunes.
If he was only able to reign in the quite monotonous soliloquies between singing engagements, Ratzke could have a dynamic show. Although he couldn’t really tone down anything Bowie related, he could learn to be more natural in his performance delivery, instead of coming across as a parody. A good artist knows how to project emotive words without becoming too shrill, although in fairness, Ratzke occasionally did manage this feat quite well.
Perhaps this reviewer was expecting a different type of show than Starman promised – even so, what was offered was generally sub-standard. There have been and always will be endless Bowie tributes with his works sure to endure. Shows such as Starman don’t quite live up to this reputation however, with its often dull atmosphere something Bowie would be aghast at despite the smattering of glittering makeup and other-worldly costuming.
Reviewed by: Patrick Moore
Rating out of 5: 1.5
Venue: Festival Theatre
Season: 22 – 25 June 2016
Duration: 2 hrs.
Tickets: Premium: $54.90, Adult: $49.90, Concession: $44.90, GreenRoom: $24.90
Bookings: Book online at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival website or phone BASS on 131 246