Sven Ratzke, singer and entertainer
The great thing about being on stage is that you can create an illusion and you can be somebody else ...
Internationally renowned cabaret star, musician and entertainer Sven Ratzke will soon set foot on the sunny Gold Coast for the very first time, bringing his smash-hit show STARMAN to the HOTA stage on Friday June 15. In a starburst of a cabaret, rock and 70s glam, the show sees Sven explore the life of the late David Bowie, taking the audience on an intimate, wild, emotional and amusing journey though his various chart-topping hits and alter egos. Sven took time out ahead of his Australian trip to chat to us about creating illusions, his first-ever stage performance and how his universe collided with David Bowie.
You’re in town to bring your acclaimed show STARMAN to the HOTA Stage on Friday June 15 – can you tell us a little about the show?
STARMAN started three-and-a-half years ago. What we do in the show is take the music of Bowie, recreate it and make it our own. I tell an incredible, strange, wonderful story in between – it’s like a trip. It’s like my universe and the universe of Bowie mingle in the show together. On one side it’s also a personal show, because of the references to Bowie. He gave permission when he was still alive that I could do this – so that was really, really special.
What sparked the idea for the STARMAN show initially and what led you down the path of David Bowie?
As an artist, you start with an idea – and then it starts to boil and it’s like an endless cooking session. You can compare it to making dinner for people – you have to do it a couple of times first. I did a lot of research about Bowie and his work – I was an admirer, but I wasn’t a mega-fan, because I think you can’t be a total fan and try and create something at the same time, because you need to break things down, analyse and be critical. Music like ‘Rebel Rebel’, ‘Heroes’, ‘Rock n Roll Suicide’ and other beautiful songs same from a period where Bowie was for me, and a lot of other people, an enigma and a mystery, because he was always transforming himself into these other characters like Ziggy Stardust, which I found very very inspiring. You know, these days everybody is telling everybody how it is on social media etc, but for me, theatre gives you that mystery and allows multiple interpretations.
You’ve probably been asked endless times what your favourite Bowie song is. So instead, what song in the show do you think will make us laugh and what one will probably make us cry?
Haha, yes I have! What will make you cry, or at least make you feel melancholic, is ‘Heroes’ – it’s such a universal song, and it shows the incredible songwriting that he (Bowie) did – it’s a love song, it’s a political song, it’s a song that is really important in this time as well, and we made a very intimate ballad out of it. The stories in the show will make you laugh – as will songs like ‘Time’, or “tiiiime” as I pronounce it, that are more cabaret style and very freaky, crazy and fun
Tell us a little about how you go from being Sven to Bowie? It goes well beyond makeup and costumes …
Interestingly, I think that later on, Bowie sort of found himself and he got rid of all of his personas. I’ve been a cabaret performer for almost 20 years now, but my inspiration was always theatre and playing characters. I think the great thing about being on stage is that you can create an illusion and you can be somebody else, and you can fulfil and live your dreams (and maybe your nightmares too). There is incredible freedom, which is sometimes also a burden because you can go so many ways. On stage, I am still Sven … but I am Sven on acid, so to speak. Not literally! I couldn’t travel to Australia if I did that, haha! I once brought an orange into Australia, which was a big disaster.
What’s your earliest memory of performing?
At a wedding when I was five years old, I jumped on a table with a bucket as a hat. There were a lot of grown ups, and I was in the middle of it all – it was a natural thing for me already to be in the spotlight.
One of my first cabaret performances was at a festival, I was in an open tent and I was barefoot because I didn’t have money for fancy shoes. I was a very skinny, very arty guy, a virgin and probably very strange looking – people were just staring at me like “who is this guy?”. I was just going for it!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
One of my dearest colleagues, Claron McFadden, who is an amazing opera singer, said to me that she ‘always wanted to be good, and not famous’. I find in this time era, that is very brave to say, because it’s about fame and not about quality that much anymore. What Bowie taught me was to be brave and to always be unique.
You can catch STARMAN at HOTA on Friday June 15.