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David, A New Musical

Brings to teeming life a period from 3,000 years ago with style and spirit.

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Kenny Morris as the Prophet Nathan, Ethan Zeph as young David, Timothy Warmen as older David and cast in a scene from “David, A New Musical” at AMT Theater (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

David now at the AMT Theater is an ambitious Off Broadway musical dramatizing the story of the youth of the hero David, later second king of Israel. It has a bouncy contemporary score by Albert Tapper and a large talented cast. Somewhat indebted to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Biblical musicals, it is narrated by the older King David on his deathbed to the Prophet Nathan. Most of David’s adventurous exploits take place off stage, while the dramatized scenes are mainly political and dramatic.

While King David attempts to convince Nathan to give the eulogy at his funeral, he recounts his tumultuous life. As the king reviews his life, Ethan Zeph as Young David takes over the action, beginning with his being assigned to fight the Philistine giant. When he becomes a hero, he is brought to the court of King Saul (first king of Israel) who is instantly jealous and suspicious of the intentions of the heroic youth that has caught the populace’s fancy. However, both his children, his daughter Michal and his son Jonathan, are taken with the modest young man, and their lives become intertwined with his.

Olivia Vadnais as Michal and Jacob Louchheim as Jonathan (center) and cast in a scene from “David, A New Musical” at AMT Theater (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

When Michal wants to marry him, this leads to a break with her father and Saul’s attempt to kill David. After they run away from court, David makes a deal with the Philistines but insists they do not expect him to turn on his countrymen. Jonathan sides with David but keeps this from his father. When Saul and Jonathan are killed by the Philistines, David becomes king and drifts away from Michal who never stops loving him but refuses to be humiliated.

The musical is entertaining but the book by Martha Rosenblatt, Gary Glickstein and Tapper does not stick entirely to Biblical history but simplifies the story. (David actually had eight wives, Saul was not killed by the Philistines.) They also fudge on David’s relationships with both Jonathan and Bathsheba (which is dealt with in two sentences.) The lyrics by the same team are impressively dense and informational.

Ethan Zeph as young David and cast in a scene from “David, A New Musical” at AMT Theater (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

While the songs are interestingly varied, there is no single style, many sounding like they should be in other contemporary musicals. They include pop songs, patter songs, love songs, catalog songs, comic songs, prayers, anthems, all to different kinds of music, some bouncy, some serious, and with too much keyboard accompaniment that doesn’t sound like a piano but an electronic instrument. However, the cast delivers them well regardless of the fact that none of them suggest Middle Eastern or Semitic melodies. Among the choral numbers, “Rise Up Lord” is the most complex song with its catalog of products found in Jerusalem; “Fire on the Mountain” is the most rousing song, and “Sodom and Gomorrah” has the wittiest lyrics.

While Timothy Warmen is rather somber as Old King David, Ethan Zeph as young David starts shallow but matures quickly into a shrewd leader. Olivia Vadnais is feisty as Saul’s daughter and her delivery elevates all of her songs: the clever “The First First Family,” the poignant “When You Walk Away” and “Something Was Ending,” and the romantic “I Am Loved By the King.” In the underwritten role of Jonathan, Jacob Louchheim makes his presence felt. Kenny Morris’ Nathan is played as a comic character. As leader of the Philistines, Jay Aubrey Jones is suave and devious.

Olivia Vadnais as Michal and Ethan Zeph as young David with Timothy Warmen as older David (far right) in a scene from “David, A New Musical” at AMT Theater (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

Director/choreographer Kyle Pleasant continually fills the small stage with interesting patterns in James J. Fenton’s unit setting. Ashley Soliman’s costumes appear to have been created on a small budget but are perfectly appropriate to the time and place. The lighting design by Mary Ellen Stebbins and Willem Internhoff occasionally attempts some fancy effect that seems extraneous.

While David, A New Musical seems to reduce the life of its hero to simply a series of political events at the same time it dilutes the Biblical story, it remains entertaining throughout. Under the direction of Kyle Pleasant, the cast is always animated and lively and several of the performances are quite winning. The contemporary sounding score is enjoyable without offering any sense of atmosphere and time. However, David does bring to teeming life a period from 3,000 years ago with style and spirit.

Timothy Warmen as older David, Kenny Morris as the Prophet Nathan and Caleb Mathura as Solomon in a scene from “David, A New Musical” at AMT Theater (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

David, A New Musical (through July 13, 2024)

AMT Theater, 354 W. 54th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.amttheater.org

Running time: two hours and 25 minutes including one intermission

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About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (995 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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