Alex Grelle is the new David Bowie | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Alex Grelle is the new David Bowie

The transformative performer channels the legendary artist for the completely original, electric Floor Show.

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When Blackstar came out in January 2016, I got my hopes up. Maybe, just maybe, this new album meant that David Bowie would go on tour. I made a promise to myself that I would spend anything—sell anything, take out a loan, do anything—for the chance to see Bowie live. Of course those hopes were dashed when just two days later the Starman died, and I’ve spent a lot of time since wondering what it would have been like to be in the presence of such an amazing performer and artist, how it must have felt to see him in his prime. After seeing the Bowie-inspired performance Floor Show, I feel like I don’t have to wonder anymore. And not in the sense that I saw someone do their best Bowie, but that I got to see Alex Grelle (soon to be, if not already, a legend in his own right) create a completely original, electric night of music, fashion, laughter, art, and many, many wigs celebrating the spirit of transformation. 

The stage for Floor Show, cocreated by Grelle and director Jesse Morgan Young, is set up like a runway—the friend who accompanied me compared the space to that of an underground show at Fashion Week. Nestled in between two loops of the runway is a full band and two singers (the “Cherrys," aka Teressa LaGamba and Bran Moorhead). The walls on either side of the band feature projections (designed by Sid Branca) inspired by famous Bowie imagery, and at the direct end of the runway is a two-way mirror where the audience can see performers prepare before the show and in between scenes. 

The core of the show is musical performances of Bowie and Bowie-adjacent songs accompanied by Zachary Whittenburg and Erin Kilmurray's choreography that moves from energetic to stoic to playful to emotional and—perhaps most impressive—a seemingly endless and seamless stream of costume and wig changes, often happening while Grelle is still belting out a tune without missing a beat. Grelle is clearly the star of this show, but the onstage dressers (opening night, Adrian Hadlock and Maddie Barton, the latter replacing Mandyn Mueller for that performance) come in at a close second. (Kate Setzer Kamphausen, Keith Ryan, and Chris Tuttle are credited with costumes, wigs, and styling.)

Despite being built on recognizable source material, nothing about Floor Show is expected. That becomes most clear during one of the most delightful moments halfway through when Grelle and Andrew Sa show up as Liza Minnelli and Judy Garland to perform a show-tune-esque medley of Bowie hits. The performance from Grelle in particular highlighted his range as a performer, able to go from dark brooding Bowie to playful, ingenue Liza in an instant.

Throughout the night I saw it, there was a sense of camaraderie among the audience members that felt rare. There were several moments where I would catch someone’s eye from across the room and we’d both be grinning our faces off as if to say "how amazing that we're lucky enough to be here for this transcendent moment." As Grelle continues to create, I have no doubt that there will be someone wondering what it would be like to be at that performance, to be in the presence of such a powerful performer. Lucky for you, there’s still time to say you were there when. Floor Show is a moment that you’ll want to live in forever.  v

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