He’d like to come and meet us… But he thinks he’d blow our minds.
Sven Ratzke is bringing his globally renowned show, Starman, to Edinburgh this year and we can’t wait. The musical marvel, accompanied by his stellar three-man band treat audiences to a cabaret show like no other inspired by the Thin White Duke himself.
Before Sven’s spaceship lands in Scotland this summer we caught up with him to talk music, performance and of course, the late great David Bowie.
Where were you when you heard of The Thin White Duke’s passing? I got a call at 7 in the morning and then the phone didn’t stopped ringing. Its was surreal, I couldn’t believe it. And the press were all over me, it was crazy. That night we sang Heroes to honor him, on this big Dutch Tv show. That was hard.
You’ve had such a varied theatrical career – what made you turn to David Bowie for inspiration when thinking of your next show? That must have been a couple of years ago. Bowie just came closer and closer. I mean he was always there, but I wasn’t an extreme fan. Of course, I admired him immensely but then the puzzle pieces came together, his mystery, his power of always taking risks, his theatrical 70s side. I mean you could write an opera about him! There’s so much stuff going on, he was so smart. But when it came to my show, it was really important to create my own thing. That’s what it’s all about with Bowie: be creative, be individual, be unique.
What do you think it was about him that allowed him to connect with so many people? He was the first real popstar. He was smart, he changed his style and image constantly, and it was exciting. It was almost like one big theatre show. It was sexy and dangerous. There were so many layers.
Walk us through Starman, we’re told it’s most definitely NOT a Bowie tribute show. Exactly. It’s a real Ratzke show, but with re interpretations of his beautiful music. I take the audience on a trip. From London, via LA and New York, we end up in a sleazy drag club in West-Berlin. People have described the show as sometimes being like an acid Alice in Wonderland trip, only much more fun. It’s a rollercoaster of bizarre fun, rocking music and very touching ballads.
How has the show changed and evolved since its opening last October? It’s not changed at all. We never mentioned Bowie’s name at all, so that’s the only thing that I do now that I didn’t. Somewhere in the end, when I look at the stars and name all the legends up there, Lennon, Elvis, Hendrix…and there’s now also: David.
People that worked with him and were his friends told me that he would have probably enjoyed it very much.
The show has been well received by audiences in Berlin, Holland and New York – it’s clear that the legend of David Bowie has had a lasting universal appeal. Have you noticed a different vibe from the audience depending on where you’re performing? And have you had to adjust the show at all? I do the show in three languages: Dutch, German, English. The great thing is that I’m getting better and better in creating a universal show that works in all kinds of different countries and vibes. Of course the music of Bowie is the big connection, it’s so beautiful to see how many people are so moved by it. A lot of people cry in the end of the show. Of course you have to be open minded also. If you are a conservative and think: this is Bowie and you have to do it exactly as Bowie, then you’re in the wrong show. I think he would have loved the show himself, because it’s creative and we almost re invented it and made it our own. People that worked with him and were his friends told me that he would have probably enjoyed it very much.
You previously performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2008 at the Assembly Rooms; what did you think of the festival? How did the venue compare to those in the rest of Europe and America? OMG it’s a crazy place. It’s so beautiful that you meet all these people, from all over the world. I still have vivid memories from 2008. I always wanted to go back, but didn’t have the time. The fact I’m coming back now has been planned for a long time. To come for a whole month is a big thing for all of us, but I know it’s gonna be unforgettable.
Your past shows include Hedwig and the Angry Inch – what was that like to be a part of? Do you think a cult following is a blessing or a curse for a show like that? It was an amazing experience, especially because I became so close with the creator John Cameron Mitchell. He gave me his blessing and even called me ‘the best Hedwig ever’ so that was great. Again, I think John liked it so much because I made it my own. The cult following is great. I love it. In Germany though, not a lot of people know the show, so I’m gonna bring it back in October and November to Berlin and Hamburg.
As well as Edinburgh you’re going to be in London or Just for Laughs, are you exited for the launch? Oh yes I am! Here I come!
Have you performed to a London audience before? How do they compare? I did one gig in Soho last year in April. I loved it. I think there’s already a connection. This is gonna be my new favorite audience
Be unique, be kind, be crazy. That’s what we say.
David Bowie was without a doubt one of the most inspirational artists ever to have graced this Earth, and he’s a clear inspiration for your work. Are there any other artists that have had a similar effect on you? Would you like to create another character based on one of these artists in the future? I’m working already on my new show. That’s going to be only me and feature original songs. But I’m also developing a musical at the moment and I’m so much inspired by the people I work with or meet. Show stoppers like New York legends Justin Vivian Bond and Joey Arias… They’re so smart and kind and creative. The world of cabaret and entertainment is very creative at the moment and very important. Everywhere its getting conservative and thinking everyone should be the same. Nope, no be unique, be kind, be crazy. That’s what we say.
You’ve starred in many shows over the past seventeen-years which have taken you across Europe and the United States; is there a country or venue that you have yet play in that’s on your wish-list? I really have already performed everywhere and I love it. But I do also want to go to Barcelona and Brasil. That will happen soon I think. I have to make time for that. And I also want to go to Russia. They could use some color.
What’s next for you after STARMAN wraps up in April 2017? Will you be heading back to the UK for your next show? Yes definitely! We’re planning to bring STARMAN to London, that will be in 2017. Then after the Summer it’s time for my new show.
Do you have any advice for young and up-and-coming comedians? Learn and watch, and don’t be afraid of making mistakes.
What Bowie song should be posted at the bottom of this interview?
My version of Heroes – I hope you like that.
Sven Ratzke’s Starman is at Assembly George Square 6-28th August as part of Edinburgh Fringe. Find out more at tickets.edfringe.com
He’s also going to be performing From Amsterdam to Mars at London’s Just For Laughs Festival on 15 16 July – Find out more at ticketmaster.co.uk/justforlaughs
Additional reporting Rory Hughes