David Bowie’s American Stage Debut

“How many rock stars could step out from behind their guitars and into a Broadway drama without thoroughly embarrassing themselves? At least one: David Bowie.” Theater critic Scott Fosdick asked and answered this question when David Bowie made his American stage debut as John Merrick in The Elephant Man at Chicago’s Blackstone Theatre in 1980.

Other reviews were equally complementary of the chameleon entertainer’s transition into a straight play. Critics at the Chicago Tribune pointed out that Bowie knew "the difference between having an act and acting" thus delivering a performance that was "truly sensitive, moving and quite brilliant." Bowie’s brilliance in the role was partially inspired by mime training under Lindsay Kemp. He was able to portray Merrick without makeup, but rather by twisting and contorting his body to emulate the character’s physical deformity.

While The Elephant Man’s run at the Blackstone closed after a successful four weeks, a small piece of this Bowie history lives on in Chicago Theater Collection-Historic Programs in CPL's Special Collections and Preservation Division.

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