If you’re one of those people who shares the belief that David Bowie is best understood as an actor, you’re probably wondering: how long might it be before a David Bowie musical — or some other theatrical production based on his music — hits the stage?
While no project has been indicated as in the works, it's not hard to imagine a Bowie-themed stage show becoming a major moneymaker. Tickets to "Lazarus," a musical adaptation of "The Man Who Fell to Earth" featuring music composed by Bowie, are currently going for $1,000 apiece, and its producers are mulling a Broadway run, according to the New York Post.
It would certainly be in keeping with a larger trend within the music industry. In recent years, record companies and music publishers have begun trying to wring more value out of their catalogs.
Last fall, Sony Legacy, a division of Sony Music Entertainment responsible for repackaging and reissuing its artists’ music, acquired Artist Legacy Group, which looks for new opportunities to license and sell an artist’s image and music to third parties. Earlier this month, Universal Music Group, the world’s largest record company, announced that it had hired two people to spearhead the development of film, television and theatrical productions based on Universal artists’ songs and recordings.
“The stories behind our artists and their music offer narratives that provide a natural foundation to build exciting and compelling experiences for audiences around the world," Universal Music Publishing chairman Jody Gerson said in a statement accompanying its announcement.
For labels, as well as artist estates, the appeal of a musical or a branded revue is obvious. Shows like Cirque du Soleil’s ONE and Immortal, both based on the music of Michael Jackson, or Love, which used songs written by the Beatles, have proven themselves to be major sources of revenue. Immortal, which opened in 2011, grossed $2 million per night in Las Vegas, according to Pollstar, and “Love” was instrumental in making Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr some the highest earning musicians the years it was active.
Bowie, who sold the rights to his catalog to Warner Music Group in 2013, was famously averse to such offers. “He wanted to control where and when his music was used,” Bowie’s business manager, Bill Zysblat, told Billboard. “It was never about money. It was always about doing the newest thing, doing the coolest thing.”
While Bowie would occasionally approve the use of his recordings for film or television, he was far less inclined to license the use of his compositions for the stage.
Indeed, in the rare instances when Bowie did approve the use of his compositions to third parties, the finished product was usually something groundbreaking. In 2004, when he approved the use of his hit “Rebel, Rebel” for an Audi commercial, the campaign went well beyond simply using the song. The spot itself blended “Rebel, Rebel” with “Never Get Old,” a song from an album Bowie was promoting at the time, and as a separate part of the campaign, Audi customers were encouraged to mash up Bowie’s songs online on their own.
“The fact that we were encouraging fans to create something unique and artistic was something that was interesting for him,” said Jonathan Cude, chief creative officer at McKinney, the advertising agency that created the campaign. “It had never been done before at the time, and that's kind of what he was all about.”