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Bowie returns to Earth, and Caruso sticks the landing

The reviews are in for former Spokane actress Sophia Anne Caruso.

Caruso, 14 (pictured at left), is co-starring in "Lazarus" off-Broadway at the New York Theater Workshop. The musical stars Michael C. Hall (of "Dexter" and "Six Feet Under" fame, pictured at right) in a role made famous by David Bowie.

In fact, Bowie's fingerprints are all over "Lazarus," a sequel of sorts to "The Man Who Fell To Earth," the 1976 Nicholas Roeg film Bowie starred in that was based on the novel by Walter Tevis. Bowie wrote the script with Enda Walsh ("Once"), and it uses new material as well as old hits, deep cuts and new arrangements of classic Bowie songs.

"Lazarus," directed by Ivo van Hove, centers on Thomas Jerome Newton, the humanoid alien who left his dying planet to find water on Earth we met in "The Man Who Fell to Earth." It's now 40 years later, and he's still here, trapped, un-aged, filthy rich and depressed.

Caruso plays Girl, an ethereal being who wants to help Newton get home.

The musical opened Monday and has garnered some positive reviews, and some head scratching. It certainly doesn't sound like a breezy night of theater. As Ben Brantley pointed out in his New York Times review, "Listening to the characters talk, your response is likely to be either an irritated 'Oh, please,' or a dumbfounded 'Huh?' But then, the music (performed by a ravishing-sounding band, divided from the stage by a transparent wall) starts up. So do a host of visual effects that mirror and mock the people singing or suggest that they (and you) have tumbled into a three-dimensional television set that is perpetually changing channels."

The Guardian simply called it "a thrilling theatrical odyssey - and almost impossible to understand." In the Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney concluded, "Whether or not the outre folly of 'Lazarus' pays off is wide open to debate, but this may well be the nearest thing to a Bowie musical that any of us could have hoped for. At the very least, it's unlike anything else out there and it's certainly not banal." He also wrote: "Many of the new arrangements are gorgeous, notably the final number, 'Heroes,' performed by Hall and Caruso as a duet of healing deliverance. The fact that they're bodysurfing in a pool of spilt milk as they sing is typical of the show's spacey oddity."

Caruso's performance earned positive notices from a number of critics, including Brantley, who described her as "radiant."
Deadline.com's Jeremy Gerard called Caruso "haunting," while Kory Grow in Rolling Stone  wrote, "Caruso breathes just enough drama into the cavemen and sailors of 'Life on Mars' after years of overdramatic cover versions. It's all strange and wonderful and heartbreaking and funny in alternating measure." Writing in the Chicago Tribune, Chris Jones said, "Hall and young Caruso have a palpable emotional connection — weird as it is, this actually is the one relationship in the show that feels rooted in reality, even though neither of the participants are human." And Slate's Chris O'Leary called Caruso "an astonishing young talent, whom I expect will be starring in Broadway plays for the rest of the century."

The initial run of "Lazarus" sold out in minutes, so it was extended to Jan. 20. That sold out, too. Mostly. Looks like there were a few seats left Tuesday morning for closing night. Click here for details.

Since leaving Spokane, where she starred as Annie for Spokane Civic Theatre and as Helen Keller at (the former) Interplayers Theatre, she's pursued an acting career in New York. She appeared as one of the von Trapp children in NBC's live musical "The Sound of Music" in 2013 and was nominated for a Lucille Lortel Award as "Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play" for her work in the off-Broadway production of "The Nether." For more information about Caruso, click here.

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