Alan Menken and Tim Rice between them have been involved in writing projects as diverse as Evita and Beauty and the Beast; now they're experimenting with a Bible-based oratorio, King David, which is serving as the inaugural production at the refurbished New Amsterdam Theatre on New York's 42nd Street.
Critics weighed in with their reviews May 20. Here is your chance to add your voice to theirs. Please write your review of the show -- and/or the theatre -- and e-mail them to Managing Editor Robert Viagas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments will be posted as they come in.
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From Chessmuse, Los Angeles, CA:
Yes, the New Amsterdam is spectacular, and Mayor Giuilani opened the show with a tribute to the renovation (but mis-pronounced "Ziegfeld") but the news Sunday night (5/18) wasn't the theatre, it was "King David."
It is a stunning piece of work, a new type of theatre which might appeal more to opera/symphony audiences than traditional theatre audiences. In truth, it is an oratorio, a stunning in-your-face combination of scenes, powerful voices in song and a splendid orchestral tour-de force. Rice and Menken have written a masterpiece which must be viewed as a whole, not as songs or scenes strung together.
The Tony Walton set fills the proscenium opening with an amphitheatre backed by a cyc filled with the Hebrew text of (presumably I or II Samuel). Every musician is visible, a chorus is banked on both sides of an intricate four or five level playing surface. "King David" roars out at you with all the majesty and power of the Bible. As with truly well-done Shakespeare, you are only vaguely conscious that the lines are verse or that they are even sung. The story is king here and the emotions huge and tragic.
The performances all struck exactly the right tone and the sheer power and beauty of the music and voices was almost too much to take at times. Rice puts in a little humor, mostly in the beginning, though this story does not lend itself to much. Menken's music is varied and splendid, with Rice's lyrics giving the whole piece a realistic, contemporary feel. There's nothing dated about greed, love, lust, and power. The costumes indicate the period, but don't overwhelm you with it, so it feels like a story for all time. The audience was very responsive and enthusiastic. The opening night party was celebrity-studded (Elaine Paige, Glenn Close, among others) and lavish, but the tent looked like it had been borrowed from a wedding.
Everything was white and dainty--and did nothing to carry forward the mood of "King David." There was no band or orchestra (an odd economy on Disney's part). An over-loud sound system inexplicably played Big Band, Perry Como and Bing Crosby, drowning out most attempts at conversation, making most veterans of these extravaganzas long for the splendid appropriately-themed opening night parties Stigwood threw in the 70s and 80s. Disney had also stinted on "King David" merchandise (total: None), and first- night guests were gifted with New Amsterdam mugs in American Express bags. My first thought was, the critics are not going to understand "King David" because there's nothing they can compare it to. Unfortunately, I was right.
From PiesGalo, New Haven, CT
While I make it a point to see every show that opens on B'way (and have done so for the past fifteen years) I have never felt compelled to write one of these Playbill Critic Reviews until now.....Yes, the New Amsterdam Theater is beautiful. However, I went there to see a show, not look at a building (and my Phd. is in theater and not in architecture) so I will focus my opinion to what was on the stage. Simply put, while certainly flawed in a few areas, the production was wonderfully theatrical overall. At the perfomance I attended (the last preview) the cast got a well-deserved standing ovation, and people were leaving the theater raving about the show.
The idea of presenting KING DAVID as a musical is sheer genius. The story is full of passion, betrayal, envy, and pathos.....strong emotions that just begged to be expressed through music and singing. One only has to listen to the pain and anguish in the voice of these singers as they hold out some incredibly long notes to feel the chill of theatrical excitement. I would hate to think the authors would even consider cutting any of it. David's story is what David's story is and it if it takes 2:45 minutes to be told, then it takes 2:45 to be told, just like the story of LES MIZ takes 3:15 to relate (I rather spend 2:45 watching David's story unfold then spend it with Little Orphan Annie over on 45th St.). It is, in fact, the great story that drives this show and makes it emphatically worth seeing...although, as a musical, it is clear that the show would not be tolerable were all other areas forsesaken. Fortunately, they are not.
The performances were, for the most part, right on the money. I am not a huge fan of either Marcus Lovett (to me, at least, I feel he has the stage presence of a wet mop and I saw little to no change in his performance as David grows, matures, and hopefully wisens) or Judy Kuhn (yes, she has a nice voice....but I've seen her in nine different shows and she has played every single role the same, in my opinion) there is no question but that they are both strong vocalists. I thoroughly enjoyed Alice Ripley's performance as Betsheba (which surprised me, because she left me feeling quite cold in both SUNSET BLVD. and TOMMY). I thought the scene with her "bathing on the roof" was so subtlety suggested, yet so effectively delivered. There was a definite air of "sensuality" about it...Stephen Bogardus gives the type of slightly above average, although not overly sensational, performance he always delivers. Everyone else does quite exceptional work, backed by a chorus of Broadway regulars who blow the roof of the place with much of the chorale work.
I found the music quite enjoyable. There is a healthy variety of styles....pop, rock, Broadway, operetta....Rather than giving an impression of "hodgepodgeness" this mix brillantly allows Menken to paint with just the right color for a given moment on stage. From the tenderness of "Never Again" to the mounting fervor of "Saul Has Slain His Thousands", the notes are there and deliver brilliantly.
My biggest problem was with the lyrics. Tim Rice just is not the lyricist he once was. In fact, ever since he stopped working with Lloyd Webber, his greatest talent seems to be able to pick good subject material and then hook-up with a great composer who can pick-up his slack. While it was definitely hard to hear some of the lyrics (which I attribute to a combination of lack of diction and lack of poor sound design- potentially disasterous to anyone who had not read the synopsis provided), those that did get through understandably weren't worth hearing. Many of them got unwanted laughter....a disaster in a show that works so valiantly and most successfully to build an air of drama. The scene where David's son gets his hair caught in the tree, Joab kills him, and David weeps seems to me to be a particularly glaring example of bad lyric-writing (and rather silly staging).
Bad lyrics aside, I want to stress that the piece does work...as a concert. Unless some serious re working is done, I have my doubts how it will come across as a full fledged stage musical. Much of the story is told through exposition via the narrartor-like Joab. For a concert, this doesn't bother you....for a stage musical, you want more. I think the show works remarkably well with the limited scenerey and the chorus all in black. I'd hate to see all the glorious emotion drowned out by the roar of a helicopter landing or a chandelier crashing.
Bottom line? If you like good, emotion-ladden theater don't miss this glorious, though by no means impeccable, production.
In this show Alan Menken and Tim Rice strive for a "Jesus Christ Superstar" style take on what Mr. Rice calls "the second greatest story ever told."
Mr. Menken is a gifted melodist, here he is setting his sights beyond musical comedy catchiness and produces a composite of pop, ethnic, and liturgical sounds -- for the most part, these aren't exactly hummable tunes, but some of the music is very powerful. Mr. Rice is on good behavior here, but even so, his trademarks, the snottiness, the facile and overly precious rhymes and diction, and a jarring use of anachronism, pop up throughout. (The young shepherd/poet David uttering "WOW" after his first audience with King Saul?)
If this proceeds to a full production, some editing may be necessary, but I would hope the physical production isn't inflated too much. The minimal staging (Mike Ockrent's contribution?), costuming, and props, work very well. I found the cast uneven. Marcus Lovett is best, if not all that impressive, as the young David of Act I. He doesn't have the heft, dramatically or vocally, for the mature ruler/ troubled father of Act II.
Similarly, the actors cast as Jonathan and Absalom are lacking in both those departments. Martin Vidnovic sounds great as King Saul, and does have the heft to portray the character's grandeur and anguish. Peter Samuel is strong voiced and suitably forbidding as the prophet Samuel, Stephen Bogardus does well as Joab, here made a narrator/observer as well as part of the story. Alice Ripley is a convincing, nicely sung Bathsheba, though the character is given somewhat short shrift, given her place in David's life. Of course, as Saul's daughter and David's wife Michal, Judy Kuhn is amazing.
What strikes me most is the seeming effortless with which, both as singer and actress, she conveys such emotion. She has great presence, and that pristine voice, and simply allows the feelings to pour from her. Aside from some problematic sound design, which, at its loudest, completely obscures the lyrics, Disney deserves some credit for mounting this serious, unDisney like piece, and also deserves great applause for the fabulous renovation job on this theater.
From Zarina Mustapha (email@example.com) New York City:
ON THE NEW AMSTERDAM THEATRE:
I went in astounded. I was amazed from the moment I entered the lobby of the theatre. At the entrance door, up there close to the ceiling was the relief of selected Shakespearean plays - Hamlet, Midsummer Night's Dream), carefully carved in detail. The handrails of the stairs were richly decorated with carved little creatures, leaves, flowers, fruits and figures from Greek mythologies. Practically everywhere I looked -- walls, ceiling, stairs, stage, balcony, boxseats area -- all generously and lavishly decorated with carvings, paintings and sculptures. My friend and I had a lot of fun guessing who was who on the paintings and we walked around in circles like a couple of children in a toy store. The stage was bigger/wider than average stages. The New Amsterdam Theatre is probably the most beautiful theatre I have been to in my life.
ON THE STAGE SET:
Disney did this the big way; they would not settle for anything mediocre. The orchestra consisted of more than 50 musicians. The lighting design was excellent, nice colorful lights that fit the mood of the whole concert. Disney is, after all, the master of special effects and illusion. The first impressioned I got upon seeing this whole stage set-up was "Disney has the money, and they are making it as grand as money can buy."
ON THE INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES:
"King David" had a very strong assembly of cast -- Marcus Lovett (Phantom), Judy Kuhn (Les Miserables, Sunset Blvd), Alice Ripley (Sunset Blvd.) Martin Vidnovic and Peter Samuel -- to name a few. Each represented the character well, has strong powerfull voice, (albeit, no acting - it was a concert). The highlight of the show, the star on the stage was Judy Kuhn.
ON THE MUSIC AND SONGS:
Well, hmm... did I tell you how beautifull the theatre was? I love Menken's music but I do not care that much about Tim Rice's lyrics, in general. Thus, "King David" was a reather odd combination for me. Let's begin with the music/score. Peculiar enough, I could not find Menken's much admired work in this musical. I am not sure whether Menken made up his mind to go with the "classical Broadway + pop + rock + Metallica-ish + Kenny-G-ish + Middle-Easternish" theme for "King David." Maybe I am a bit on the traditional Broadway side, but Menken's music was swaying back and forth and by the fourth song, I was already squirming in my seat. Some songs sounded to me so much like those from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" particularly 'Heaven's Light/Hellfire' and the score when Quasi was swinging down the bell tower.
And the lyrics, lots and lots of repeated phrases. For instance, two songs that I can recall vividly -"Saul has slain his thousands, David has slain his ten thousands" and it was repeated over, and over again. And then there was the "Never Again' song. "Never again would I yada, yada; Never again would he yada, yada." In that one song, there were probably more than eight "Never agains."
ON THE SOUND SYSTEM:
I am a sucker for good audio system. I would not mind spending money to make sure everything sounds crytal clear. Unfortunately, someone turned up the volume and treble a bit too high, the music was drowning the voices of the actors/actresses most of the time, making it more difficult to listen to and understand the lyrics.
ON THE STORY:
Thank God for synopsis. Without that, I would have probably walked out during intermission and never gone back in. I do not know much about David, at least from the Bible's or Torah's point of view. And I did not get anything more after seeing "King David."
In general, I did not leave feeling happy. And the fact that the exit door lead you directly to the adjacent Disney Store did not make me any happier. Did I mention that the theatre was very beautiful?
From Brian Ballone (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I can call it nothing but WONDERFUL!!! I really enjoyed it VERY MUCH and would recommend it - even though it is only running for this breif engagement. Please -- if you have the opportunity in the next few days GO. I will admit, I was a little lost in the first song or two of the show but I understood what happened at the end -- in regards to Samuel confronting Saul and then Samuel anointing David. (I did not know the story other than David killing Goliath).
The music WAS Alan Menkin -- you could feel it inside and almost moved to tears! This was especially true in the songs: "Goliath of Gath" and "Saul Has Slain His Thousands." I wanted to jump up, clap and move. The chorus was powerful and the cast was great! Tim Rice's words told me, at least, a story I did not know -- and I am convinced that I now know this story.
Marcus Lovett was a convincing King David. In the beginning a humble shepard, in the middle a powerful king and in the end troubled with his self distruction. I saw Marcus in Carousel and did not like that show (probably the music...?) but I really was moved by his singing here.
Judy Kuhn was moving and expressive in both her singing and acting. She totally enveloped her character and it showed when she sung Never Again. Alice Ripley was a very sexy Bathsheba and made you feel sorry for her a bit because she too was her character - most of the time she was really crying and showing the physical emotions of losing her soldier husband and then her child.
I could go on and on person by person but I will only credit one other -- and that is one of the chorus who I could feel a link from the stage. Robin Baxter showed tremendous vocal ability -- especially in the song Sual Has Slain His Thousands. Three cheers for her!!! (Lower left on stage, long blonde hair -- don't miss her).
As life goes on, so do shows and this "Caravan Moves On" (One of the songs in the show) but I hope this "Caravan" moves back soon to Broadway. Until then I WILL have the CD to carry me on.
From Anish Khanna, Montville, NJ:
So, I attended King David on Saturday, and yes - it is flawed, but it taught me a lot:
a) I LOVE Disney. Despite it's commercialization and taking over of the entire world in the age when communism and socialization are ending, it has renovated a part of American theatrical history that has to be seen to be believed. the New Amsterdam is simply BREATHTAKING. b) Menken/Rice need to stay more on home ground with popular tunes like "Saul Has Slain his Thousands" (which made me wanna get up in the aisles and dance..) and stay away from the operetta/classical-ish stuff. . .
c) Menken/Rice can still write nice ballads (It isn't called "Home Is the Hunter" btw.. it's called "Never Again". . . but whatever it is called, JUDY ROCKS IN IT!)
d) Judy needs to stay away from parts that give her little one-liners here and there, no real backbone, and only one song to call her own (even if it wasn't listed that way in the program).
e) In Biblical times, no men had diction until they died and came back as a ghost. I guess speech therapy was very much a part of heaven even back then???
hmm.. you'd think that actors this seasoned would have diction.. oh well...
f) Disney is best at one thing: spectacle... a concert version of a show does not allow for them to really show off like they do in beauty and the beast.. the audience goes to disney expecting a spectacle, and one feels inevitably disappointed when the biggest thing on stage is a guy grunting claming to be Goliath. . . (not a well-done scene, by the way...)
g) GIVE MARCUS LOVETT A STAR VEHICLE NOW!!!!!
h) Stephen Bogardus and Roger Bart can co-star in it. . .
i) Anthony Galde should be doing Vidal Sassoon commercials. . .
j) 30 bucks IS worth seeing the detailed ceiling of the theatre... AMAZING!!!!!!
k) though, I thought the "Hercules" idea is stupid, i am thinking now that 15 bucks to go see the ceiling again, ain't so bad at all. . .
OK, I probably learned a lot more, but that's all i can think of off hand... maybe the music will sound better on cd, but i highly doubt this show has much of a future at all...
I attended the last preview performance of KING DAVID, and here's what I thought:
The theater looks absolutely amazing-- Disney should be proud of a wonderful restoration. As far as the show is concerned, I agree with the critics that the show is too long. They are trying to tell too much of David's story, and should probably narrow their focus. I also agree that the standout performances are given by Judy Kuhn as Michal (whose part is too small!!)and Stephen Bogardus as Joab. Alice Ripley was adequate as Bathsheba, but to me she is still very non-descript. Marcus Lovett has a powerful voice, but it is quite hard to have any sympathy for his David.
The concert setting worked well for me, as I am not a big fan of chandeliers and helicopters. I just want to hear good music, plain and simple. I can't say KING DAVID has the greatest score, but I enjoyed several of the numbers, including "Sheer Perfection", "Saul has Slain his Thousands", "Never Again" and "Home is the Hunter". The choir of 40 is quite amazing, and there are moments where the music just soars. However, those who are looking for a breakout number a la "As if We Never Said Goodbye" will not find one.
KING DAVID is not EVITA , but as a work in progress, it shows more promise than most of what's opened on Broadway recently.
From LDrCH (LDrCH@aol.com) Lexington, MA:
Gee, the New Amsterdam Theater looks great. Gee, Judy Kuhn has a great voice. Gee, was this production awful.
Those were pretty much my thoughts as the performance of "King David" that I attended on Friday ended. This is a deeply troubled work, with little believability, mostly dreadful music and even worse lyrics, unfocused direction, unlikable characters, and few transitions between one event and the next. The show is weak in the most crucial departments: book, music, and lyrics. Yes, I know that this is only a concert version of the final musical, and I know that work will be done between now and the Broadway opening of "King David", should that ever become a reality. But in order for this material to be made into a quality production, Alan Menken and Tim Rice will have to drastically rethink and rewrite their work. As the piece now stands, the audience feels little empathy for any character on stage (least of all the arrogant, self-righteous, adulterous, and brutal David), and there is only one song which hints at melody and has remotely intelligent lyrics. That song, entitled "Home is the Hunter", is Judy Kuhn's second-act ballad of resignation, and Ms. Kuhn delivers it beautifully.
Though I have long been an admirer of Ms. Kuhn's work on recordings, I have never seen her on stage until I saw this performance. She is an exceptionally talented woman, and (although this may sound like hyperbole) in my mind has the looks of a model, the voice of an angel, and the acting talents of a Zoe Caldwell. She is stunning in every department, and one spends much of this God-awful show simply waiting for her to return to the stage. She makes a few appearances in the first act, some brief and some a bit longer, but only in "Home is the Hunter" does she get a solo in which she can soar. And soar she does - she manages to make every word and every note count, and she delivers this song exquisitely. In a way, though, the song is almost unnecessary - Ms. Kuhn, as David's first wife, Michal, is meant to fall apart while the chorus sings and dances in the number prior to her solo. Rather than watching the uninteresting dancers, I focused my binoculars on Ms. Kuhn's face and watched it convey melancholy, grief, and despair - characteristics that, as Trevor Nunn wrote in his liner notes for her solo album, "Just In Time", Ms. Kuhn is able to convey just as easily as happiness and excitement. She is this show's one redeeming factor, and I hope she knows it.
The other performers are not nearly as good. Marcus Lovett is, well, irritating as David, choosing (wrongly, I believe) to emphasize the character's egoism at the cost of his humanity. Alice Ripley fares decently as Bathsheba, his second wife, but she is forced to sing some of the most absurd lines in musical theater today regarding her adultery (she is already romantically involved with someone when she and David meet). Martin Vidnovic, Stephen Bogardus, and the other principals do fairly well, although they simply can't overcome their revolting material. Neither can the chorus, which gives everything it's got in the wildly anachronistic production numbers which occur frequently.
The score is a shambles, with many tuneless, dull, and ugly motifs popping up all over the place. I am shocked that a composer like Alan Menken can create such drivel. Rice's lyrics are equally poor. Whatever happened to the witty composer of "Little Shop of Horrors" and the witty lyricist of "Chess"? Was this piece thrown together overnight? It certainly sounds it.
The less said about the "direction", by the usually on-target Mike Ockrent, the "staging", and the "costumes", the better. I will say that Tony Walton's set is quite nice to look at, and that the newly-restored New Amsterdam looks gorgeous.
The verdict: if you are willing to sit through a mostly awful musical to hear Judy Kuhn deliver one great song, then see this production. If you are not, then stay far away from it. (5/20/97)