Menken-Rice King David Starts B'way Previews

News   Menken-Rice King David Starts B'way Previews
Marcus Lovett, a former Phantom of the Opera will reign as King David for the nine-performance world-premiere of the Alan Menken Tim Rice concert oratorio which will reopen the historic New Amsterdam Theater on New York's 42nd Street, May 15-23, with the official opening May 18.

left: Tony Walton's set; right: Judy Kuhn, Marcus Lovett, Alice Ripley
left: Tony Walton's set; right: Judy Kuhn, Marcus Lovett, Alice Ripley Photo by Cast photo by Joan Marcus

Marcus Lovett, a former Phantom of the Opera will reign as King David for the nine-performance world-premiere of the Alan Menken Tim Rice concert oratorio which will reopen the historic New Amsterdam Theater on New York's 42nd Street, May 15-23, with the official opening May 18.

Tickets ($45-$75) are on sale through Ticketmaster: (212) 307-4100.

The two hours and 45-minute sung-through event started rehearsals in mid-April and will commence with three previews, May 15-17.

A spokesperson for the production said the show would be recorded at one of its performances for CD release. No further information on the cast recording is available at this time.

The leading female roles are the two wives of the title character, Michal and Bathsheba. They will be played, coincidentally, by the two actresses who did Betty Schaefer, Norma Desmond's romantic rival in Sunset Boulevard, on different coasts in the U.S. Judy Kuhn, who did that role first in Los Angeles, will play David's first wife, Michal; Alice Ripley, the Broadway Betty, will be Bathsheba. Stephen (Love! Valour! Compassion!) Bogardus will play David's commander-in-chief and the narrator. Martin (Brigadoon) Vidnovic will be the ruler who preceded David, King Saul; and Roger Bart will be the son of Saul, Jonathan. The role of Samuel will be done by one: Peter Samuel, a standby in Cats.

Produced by Walt Disney Theatrical Productions and Andre Djaou, King David is based on the Old Testament story of the poet king of Israel. According to director Mike Ockrent, the work will utilize a cast of 47 and an orchestra of 54.

King David is not the first time Menken and Rice have been a composer/lyricist team on a Disney production. They previously collaborated to expand the score for the stage version of 1994's Beauty and the Beast. Likewise, they wrote three songs together for the animation hit, Aladdin (one of which, "A Whole New World," was voted an Academy Award for Best Song).

Tony Walton is designing the sets for King David, William Ivey Long the costumes, David Agress the lighting, and Jonathan Deans the sound. Orchestrations will be Douglas Besterman, music direction by Michael Kosarin.

At a May 7 open rehearsal of King David, Ockrent called the piece "a staged oratorio. It follows the David story from his youth as a shepherd to his death."

Ockrent's brief introduction led right into the first number, a gospelly, bluesy piece called "Dancing Before The Ark," with lyrics culled directly from the Bible, such as "He shall receive the blessing of the Lord" and "He is the king of glory."

To prove that David is not just a musty Bible character but "a lusty, feisty, extraordinary man," Ockrent then introduced the women in the shepherd's life, Michal and Bathsheba. Judy Kuhn hushed the room with her lovely ballad, "Home Is The Hunter," followed by Alice Ripley offering an impassioned, "When In Love."

The story of David is a political one as well; therefore, much of act one will concern the jockeying for kingship upon the death of King Saul (Martin Vidnovic). Revolution brews with the angry, propulsive "The Caravan Moves On." Act one ends with "The Death Of Saul," as the King sees his son, Jonathan (Roger Bart), killed in battle. Vidnovic lent his potent baritone to "How Are The Mighty Fallen," as the suicidal monarch plunged a sword into his side. The ensemble finished the number, filling the small rehearsal hall with stirring sound.

The rehearsal then closed with the act two finale, wherein elderly David, unsatisfied with his life as a husband and crushed because he wasn't able to build the sacred Temple, takes refuge in the knowledge that he was a good king and then exhorts his heirs to build "The New Jerusalem."

After the rehearsal (which was attended surreptitiously by Glenn Close, no doubt to cheer on her Sunset colleague, Ripley), Ockrent told Playbill On-Line that finding the right tone for the material was, "a three-year process. It had to be about more than just kinship; he was, as I said, a feisty, lusty man. Also, there's certainly a link to the story and the move of modern political leaders for control. It's become a blueprint of the psychological behavior of kings throughout the ages. Tim's [Rice's] cynicism catches that and gives the story meat. The intrigues are almost Shakespearean, and the fundamental story of the importance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people is one that goes on today."

Assuming the limited Broadway engagement goes well, Ockrent and Menken hope to expand the piece theatrically and bring it to the United Kingdom. "The initial plan was for the show to play in Jerusalem," Menken told Playbill On-Line. "Michael Eisner had wanted to be involved at that point, but the logistics became impossible. So instead, we decided to do it as a concert, but also to make it an `event.' This is not what you'd call family entertainment; the subject matter isn't exactly for three-year-olds. It's a sung through opera with lots of twists and turns."

The production was originally announced to debut in Israel.

Asked if she had personal connections to the Biblical material, actress Kuhn told Playbill On-Line, "I was raised Jewish but very non-religious, no synagogue, no training. What I knew about the story is what everyone knows -- David slaying Goliath...that stuff. But I was approached for the role last fall, couldn't do the workshop but was taken on again later. Even though this is a concert staging, I approach my character just as I would in a full musical, even if here it's more stylized and presentational." Kuhn, who appeared in Rice's Chess, said, "I love Alan and Tim's music; they write great, singable, emotional melodies."

In contrast to Kuhn, Ripley came from a strongly religious background, though with many different types of faiths. "I think religion is different from spirituality. I believe there's just one god for everyone. Religion is about rituals, teachings and writings; spirituality transcends those boundaries. In this piece, the characters have both mythic and human characters."

Asked how she enjoys playing sultry Bathsheba, Ripley said, "It really stretches my boundaries. I usually get the ingenue roles, and here I play seductive Bathsheba, who has a lot of traumatic experiences and gritty circumstances."

Circumstances will get even grittier for Ripley when she arrives on Broadway next year in Sideshow -- she'll be playing (with Emily Skinner) half of a pair of Siamese twins in a freak show. The music will be by Henry Krieger, of Dreamgirls.

Speaking of Broadway, composer Menken told Playbill On-Line he doesn't mind that the profile of his work (and the stakes) keeps getting higher and higher with every show. "I started with God Bless You, Mister Rosewater, then there was Little Shop and Kicks, which we couldn't do because of the AIDS crisis, but once I started working with Disney... You really can't go back. My one attempt to turn back, to work on something small, Off-Broadway kind of a workshop -- Weird Romance -- really failed. So now I work in the commercial world and that's fine. I never understood why there's something tainted about that for critics. When I wrote for the Beauty And The Beast movie, the critics called it the best musical of the season. But when it came to Broadway, with Disney's name above the title, suddenly Disney was a dirty word. People are wary of commercialism, and there are newcomers like Little Shop and Rent that'll make it big, but Broadway also needs a strong commercial element. There's some talk of doing Hunchback Of Notre Dame as a stage musical, and I'm sure we'll hear the same talk then. I guess you always have to kick the newcomer at least once."

No newcomer, director Ockrent is already working on his next project, a new musical based on the film, The Night They Raided Minsky's. This funny/sad look at the last days of burlesque is being scripted by Ed McBain with a score by Charles Strouse, Susan Birkenhead and Evan Hunter. As if that weren't enough, Ockrent is also working with the Disney company's animated features department.

For tickets and information on King David, at the New Amsterdam Theatre on West 42nd St., call (212) 307-4100.

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