‘Lazarus’ review: David Bowie’s baffling avant-garde musical

Good luck figuring out what’s going on in “Lazarus,” a strange, surreal musical with songs by David Bowie that is a sort of sequel to the 1963 science fiction novel “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” which was made into a 1976 film starring Bowie.

In “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” Newton, an alien, comes to Earth intending to bring water back to his drought-struck home planet. But after gaining wealth and fame, his plans are ruined and he falls into an alcoholic stupor.

The musical picks up many years later, showing that Newton (Michael C. Hall, in great voice) is still a depressed, emotionally distant drunk, haunted by the memory of his former girlfriend Mary Lou. Being an alien, he can’t age or die, so he just drinks gin and eats cereal.

He is then visited by a mysterious young girl (Sophia Anne Caruso), apparently dead, who encourages him to build a rocket so he can leave Earth, and a new personal assistant (a sad-looking Cristin Milioti), who escapes her own unhappy marriage by obsessing over Newton, going so far as to dress up like Mary Lou.

The art rock score consists mainly of new versions of old Bowie hits (such as “Heroes,” “Changes” and “Life on Mars?”). They are not clearly integrated into the script (by Bowie and Irish playwright Enda Walsh), so “Lazarus” is less a musical than an alien mystery drama combined with a psychedelic rock concert.

Belgian director Ivo van Hove (the Broadway revival of “A View from the Bridge”) creates an experimental production that depends heavily on wall-to-wall video projections of offstage locations and characters. At one point, the image of Alan Cumming pops up and interacts with the girl.

It’s baffling as hell and unapologetically avant-garde. But if you’re up for something like this, its arresting visuals, dreamlike atmosphere and introspective Bowie songs have the potential to  keep you entranced for two straight hours without intermission.

If you go: “Lazarus” runs through Jan. 17 at New York Theatre Workshop. 79 E. 4th St., nytw.org.