With his act, he stirred up the emotions of the audiences during Edinburgh Fringe last year. This year, he’ll bring his show to London – Starman will take over the stage of the Underbelly Festival from the 7th to 9th of June. Meet Sven Ratzke, the performer and the author of a theatrical tribute to David Bowie.
Having started performing as a teenager involved in theatre, Sven had his very own show at 19. Now, he’s an internationally recognised performer with a very own tribute to David Bowie. But what caused him to catch a spark for his music?
“I remember listening to Let’s Dance as a teenager,” he remarks. “At first, I didn’t know about his amazing songs from the seventies. I discovered them much later and really got into his music and art a couple of years ago. I think is he was one the few greatest artists of all time. He is so inventive with so much courage and I love the mystery that surrounded him in the seventies. I took interest in him because I was looking for something new and challenging,” says Sven.
When the inspiration hit, he started thinking about his own show based on Bowie’s material – paying close attention to the theatrical journey which he made in the Seventies: from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke.
“It’s a big beautiful mystery which is very multi-dimensional and allowing so many interpretations. Of course, his music is so good – which you can put your own stamp own,” he explains. “I prepared and researched for the show for almost four years in advance. I wanted to know everything about Bowie, especially because he’s such a hero and legend for so many. Bowie himself granted me permission to do this show. That was like a blessing!”
Using iconic material isn’t always easy-peasy. Sven admits that it’s tough to create your own version of what’s been deemed the legacy of a pop-culture icon.
“It’s very difficult creating your own version of iconic music without dishonouring or destroying the original,” he reveals. “Everyone has their own taste and opinion, but I think if you put your own heart, soul and humour – because Bowie had a lot of that as well – into it, then you’ll hopefully succeed!”
Bowie himself acted in a couple of films, Labyrinth being the most popular. And it also inspired the performer.
“Of course I’ve seen it, I even did an introduction to a screening of it once in Australia,” he says. “I love that movie; it shows his diversity. He was a great actor as well. You could compare my storytelling a bit with the movie as we meet crazy miraculous creatures as well.”
However, Sven accentuates that Starman is a tribute act rather than a “cover act”. With his team, he recreated the music, and he tried his hardest to make it his own.
“We have blended the universe of Bowie with my own. As an entertainer, I take the audience on a journey through a wild imaginary world, full of fun stories and the amazing music of Bowie,” he clarifies. “We did the show worldwide already, from New York to Vienna, from Sydney to Edinburgh and I get a lot of love from the audience. Some are in tears but there are also many great hilarious moments. I’m so happy that the audiences appreciate the show so much!”
The show had its very own moment during Edinburgh Fringe, so the London show isn’t Sven’s first performance in the UK. What was the last show like?
“I loved the whole experience. It was a huge hit over there and the audiences were just amazing. At the beginning, we had a few people who expected that I would do a Bowie tribute show and they didn’t like the fact that it wasn’t. However most of the hardcore fans who watched ended up in tears,” he describes the experience.
He notices that both of them were inspired by people like Brecht, Weill, Brel, and musical theatre.
“We also both have the similar style. For example, we both love the androgynies style but with a masculine touch. The biggest difference is that I talk a lot!” he laughs.
Besides Bowie, Sven lists a broad range of artists as his inspirations: Gainsbourg, Scott Walker, Iggy Pop, Marianne Faithful, Francis Bacon, Fellini and Polanski all among them.
“It also depends on what I’m working on at that time. In my daily life, my role models are people that I love and worked with, for example John Cameron Mitchell, the creator of Hedwig. He’s a very smart and sensitive guy, he is also so versatile in styles in what he does. He is just like Bowie, always sucking up all the information about everything. He wants to get smarter all the time and I love that! Never standing still,” he says.