By Marcina Zaccaria
Sven Ratzke picked up the mic at Joe’s Pub, performing David Bowie’s classics in Starman.
David Bowie began his career with The Spiders in the mid 1960s, and progressed through the 1970s, taking glam rock to its height. Appearing in the 1980s in the Blue Jean video on MTV, David Bowie became an art rock legend. After appearing in a number of films, including Basquiat and collaborating with Trent Reznor in the 1990s, Bowie was recognized for his staying power. So, it was with sadness that friends recognized Bowie’s death on Jan. 10, 2016, shortly after the Lazarus opened on East 4th Street.
In actuality, Sven Ratzke’s Starman is more than a David Bowie tribute. Ratzke begins with “Rock n’ Roll Sandman” by Rachelle Garniez and Sven Ratzke, before launching into Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel.” With every sense of fidelity for Bowie classics, Ratzke has all of the radiance of a musical theater actor. His “Lady Grinning Soul” brings in the light sounds of German cabaret.
In fact, Ratzke appeared in the first production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch in Berlin. Much like Hedwig, Ratzke includes stories of wandering journeys. In Starman, he shoulders almost none of the tragedy of Hedwig. Ratzke ambles in his high heeled boots among audience members, freely taking sips from their drinks. He shares stories of his passage through hallways and streets in Chelsea and the East Village.
It’s clear that Ratzke, who is based in the Netherlands, loves New York City. His Euro style comes across in French accents; his storytelling rivals any Weimar performer. Starman debuted in Berlin last year. For those mourning the loss of Bowie, Ratzke provides solace with fuchsia visor, make-up, a royal blue sequin blazer and broad performance style. To even out all the bluster and grandiosity (that would be a potential failing of glam rock), the piano riffs are actually rather calming. Ratzke tosses on a ringmaster’s coat for the second part of the show, and wears it with a practiced flair.
If we are all made of stars, and we all search for a galaxy in which to shine, Sven Ratzke has every sense of his radiant glow. He is a sleek performer who dances with exactitude, particularly during the sequence between the songs “Time” and “Life on Mars.” His towering appearance and lithe form puts him everywhere near the physical incarnation of a Tommy Tune dancer. He is all showman – an artist who breathes in and determines the course of the music, with defining moves, codified with the essential downbeat from the piano (Charly Zastrau), bass (Danton Boller), and drums (David Berger).
He does all of this before belting out “Heroes,” spiritually channeling his energy, really bringing the room together. Though some of his tones approximate Bowie’s, Ratzke doesn’t precisely practice vocal matching. In fact, his voice carries enough rich bass, raspy throat sounds, and piercing nasality. His interpretative style is incredibly grounded, even when singing about the stars.
Sven Ratzke’s Starman closes at Joe’s Pub on Thursday, May 26 at 9:30PM. Details can be found at www.joespub.com.