Where Are We Now

Has David Bowie been reincarnated as Sven Ratzke?

By Andrew Andrews

Sven Ratzke performs songs by David Bowie in Where Are We Now at La MaMa Downstairs. Original photo by Hanneke Wetzer.

Sven Ratzke sings the songs of David Bowie.

He’s not a Bowie impersonator, so to speak, although he does sport jackets with padded shoulders, high-heeled boots and hair blown back as if he just navigated a storm of space debris.

Accompanied only by Christian Pabst on grand piano, the singer performs scaled-down renditions of numbers that span Bowie’s forty-plus year musical career, from the days of Ziggy Stardust to 2015’s Lazarus.

Ratzke fell in love with Bowie’s music while preparing his hit show Starman for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2016, and takes his exploration of the catalog further in Where Are We Now.

With the comedic stylings of a drag cabaret, the music is interspersed with plenty of storytelling, sometimes about Bowie but often about Ratzke’s own career and his interpretations of the music.

Going into this show, I was expecting more of a full-on impersonation of David Bowie, and a greater focus on the singles that made him famous here in the States.

Forgetting that Bowie’s European hits playlist might be different, I was surprised when the performer opened with The Man Who Sold The World—although not exactly a deep cut, it’s not the first song that comes to mind when I think of the artist’s legendary career.

Of course, Bowie’s American Top 20 was well represented in the playlist: Space Oddity, The Jean Genie and Let’s Dance were all there, as well as a few others most people would recognize, if not identify with the singer.

But so were Hallo Spaceboy, Sweet Thing and a few other titles you likely wouldn’t expect from a so-called cover band.

Accepting that Ratzke is paying tribute to Bowie and not impersonating him, I appreciated the performance, although I would have enjoyed it more if some of the storytelling had been replaced by additional songs.

If you’re one of those “fans” who only know the 80s pop hits from Let’s Dance, you probably won’t think much of Where Are We Now.

But if you close your eyes during a song—and his northern European accent doesn’t slip out—you might very well be convinced that you’re listening to a recording of a live performance in an intimate venue by David Bowie himself.


Andrew Andrews attended Where Are We Now at La MaMa Downstairs in Manhattan on Wednesday, December 11, 2019 @ 8:30pm to write this review.