When Dutch cabaret performer, Sven Ratzke, started touring the world with his current show Starman in October last year, he, like the rest of the world, had no idea that David Bowie was going to be permanently recalled back to the firmament in just a few short months’ time – and therefore could not have known that the nature of, and reaction to, his tribute would irrevocably change.

The show, whilst full of appealing humour, is now also unavoidably tinged with poignancy, and the selection and arrangement of songs from Bowie’s canon are, at times, imbued with a dramatic solemnity that perhaps would not be there if the sad events of January had not unfolded as they did.

Ratzke is a consummate showman. As he first strode onto the stage, his costume, whilst initially suggesting someone more like Skyhooks-era Red Symons than Ziggy, nevertheless conjured the essence of the iconic seventies incarnation of glam rock Bowie.

One of the great strengths in Ratzke’s performance is that he never tries to impersonate his main subject, happy to simply present a personification of the idea of Bowie and what he represented to us all.

He prowls the stage, and through the audience, with a preening confidence and his linking monologues are edgy and funny, filled with obscure references to Bowie’s life and times. At times he is affectionately mocking of his audience and, at others, wickedly salacious and sexually suggestive.

His caricature of Andy Warhol as Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit, and his surrealistic encounter with Elizabeth Taylor’s secret basement stash of waxwork Hollywood child stars were two of the most entertaining examples of the show’s aptly strange narrative.

The songs are sung with power and clarity and the choices are, pleasingly, not always predictable.

The show opened and closed with numbers penned by Ratzke and his songwriting partner, Rachielle Garniez, both of which effectively capture the spirit of the times, although in style sounded more like lost Jobriath songs, or like numbers from Hedwig & The Angry Inch, than Bowie songs.

An effective, pared down version of Rebel, Rebel began our journey through the Mainman’s catalogue, and was followed by a beautiful, tender rendition of the rarely covered, Lady Grinning Soul.

Time was delivered in a form that was a hybrid Kurt Weill’s Weimar style and Tim Curry in his Rocky Horror Frank N. Furter role, and was a highlight of the show; as were a delicate reading of Life On Mars and a haunting evocative take on ‘Heroes’.

The show’s title tune, Starman, the song that many people, in the wake of Bowie’s death, cited as the song that originally converted them into lifelong acolytes, resonated here with the same rallying power of the original, but was delivered so much more gently, as if being sung as a consoling reassurance to all of us still grieving.

Ratzke’s band, throughout the 80-minute show, provided a wonderfully sympathetic musical environment in which he could thrive. Charly Zastrau, on keyboards, was particularly inventive and infused the songs with a jazzy, avant-garde flavour.

This show was a perfect choice to be scheduled on the closing night of this year’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival – it was a celebration filled with joy and tinged with sadness, and was presented to us by a performer who loves his subject and muse, but who also clearly loves this city.

Ratzke announced that he intends to be returning to Adelaide in February to sprinkle some more stardust over Adelaide audiences, and play some more of his hazy cosmic jive to a growing legion of local fans.

If you did not get a ticket for his shows this time around, make sure you do not miss him when he beams himself down again next year.

Reviewed by Ken Grady
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