The Walt Disney Company will reopen the refurbished New Amsterdam Theatre on New York's 42nd Street May 20-24, 1997 with five performances of an "oratorio" concert version of Alan Menken and Tim Rice's Biblical musical King David directed by Mike Ockrent.
The announcement was made Aug. 19 at Sardi's theatrical restaurant in the Broadway theatre district, and was attended by New York Governor George Pataki, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and four of Disney's biggest guns, Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner, company president Michael Ovitz, plus lyricist Rice and composer Menken.
Rice, lyricist for two other Biblical-themed musicals, Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, helped Menken finish his scores to Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast after Menken's partner Howard Ashman died of AIDS. King David will be their first full score together.
But Disney evidently decided that only one King could wear what Ovitz called the new "crown jewel" of Broadway. Until a reporter asked about it, no mention was made of plans for Julie Taymor's stage adaptation of the animated Disney musical The Lion King, which had been expected to come to Broadway in the 1996-97 season.
No explanation was offered, other than that Disney wanted to focus on one King at a time.
Ockrent said King David will have seven leads -- David, his wife Bathsheba (who will narrate), his rival Saul, plus Milcha, Joab, Jonathan and Samuel. The two-hour forty-minute song cycle will be presented with a chorus of 30 and an orchestra of 65. Ockrent said the performers will be costumed and there will be a set, but that the production would not be choreographed or fully staged.
Ockrent said casting is underway, and that the cast and design team would be announced by November 1996, and that tickets would likely go on sale before the end fo 1996.
The production will be recorded live and released as an audio CD in 1997, Rice said, explaining that he's following the same developmental route he and Andrew Lloyd Webber went with Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, both of which started life as recordings. Evita also was performed in concert before becoming a stage musical.
Co-producer Andre Djaoui told Playbill On-Line that a fully-staged stage musical version of King David is being considered for fall 1998.
Menken described King David as a song-cycle about David, "one of the great heroes of Jewish history," who began as a shepherd boy, slew the giant Goliath, and rose to unite the Israelites and become their first true king in the capital, Jerusalem.
Menken performed a medley of the following songs: "The Man Who Would Be King," "The Enemy Within," "Saul Has Slain His Thousands," "You Have It All," "Sheer Perfection" and "The New Jerusalem." All were in showtune style, with evidences of both gospel and cantorial influences. The songs sound most similar to his score for the unproduced TV musical "Messiah on Mott Street."
Menken said he cancelled King David's planned debut in Caesaria, Israel in September because the score was not complete, and the "dream come-true" opportunity to reopen the New Amsterdam was too good to pass up. Security concerns reportedly also influenced the decision.
Ockrent told Playbill On-Line that he "can't imagine" that the oratorio would be eligible for a Tony Award, "but you never know what the Tony committee will do." King David opens after the deadline for the 1997 awards in any case.
Rice declined to say whether The Lion King would follow King David, explaining "it's the director's show, I'm not that involved in it," though he said he and composer Elton John have completed one of four new songs for the adaptation.
Rice said he's also working with John on their new adaptation of Aida, which he decribed as "in its early stages" and "at least a year behind" King David.
Open-call auditions for both Lion King and Aida were held in June.
The reopening of the 1903-vintage New Amsterdam, where Florenz Ziegfeld once presented his legendary Follies 1913-1927, will come five months behind the originally announced reopening date of January 1997. The theatre hosted its last live stage show in 1937, and has been used for film or lain dark since then. Disney reportedly is spending $34 million to fix up the 1801-seat theatre.
In a statement, the Walt Disney Co. Said the New Amsterdam would host a "variety of live stage entertainment produced by Disney and other production entities. Walt Disney Theatrical Productions plans to launch one new show each year beginning in 1997."
Gov. Pataki said the reopening of the New Amsterdam will provide the centerpiece of the 42nd Street revival, which he envisions as becoming "the number one tourist attraction in America."