Off-Broadway Review: DAVID – A NEW MUSICAL (AMT Theatre)

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by Kevin Vavasseur on June 10, 2024

in Theater-New York


Poor King David. What a life. If the blonde-haired King of Israel isn’t being duped by the local townspeople to fight Goliath, he’s embarrassing himself at a cocktail party at King Saul’s palace. If he isn’t making war against other desert people, he’s cutting backroom deals with the enemy of his father-in-law. If he isn’t sexing it up in Sodom (and losing his wife in the process), he’s oblivious to the fact that his good friend (and brother-in-law) Jonathon is gay and in love with him.

Timothy Warmen, Kenny Morris, Caleb Mathura
Timothy Warmen, Kenny Morris

Yes, poor King David has to endure so much. But not as much as the poor audience members who have to sit through two and a half hours of David – A New Musical, currently running Off-Broadway at the AMT Theater. where it opened yesterday. An over-written, over-musicalized, overindulgent and over-stuffed trip into biblical history, the appellation ‘New” might be debatable. That is because the structure and sensibility of this piece feels like a definite throwback to ’50s-era musical theater. From its twenty-eight songs (there should be an ancient law against that many songs in one show) to its seeming cast of thousands (really only fourteen but in those big period costumes on that small stage…), one has to assume the adage  “less is more” was coined long after David’s demise. Even with veteran Broadway actors in the leads and a hard-working and committed chorus giving stalwart support, this epic interpretation of the David story is probably best left in a storage space with his slingshot.

Timothy Warmen, Ethan Zeph
Timothy Warmen (center), Caleb Mathura (far right) and cast

The story is, well, not exactly clear. The are varying historical accounts of David’s life; book and lyric writers Martha Rosenblatt, Gary Glickstein and Albert Tapper seem to have borrowed a bit from each one.  On the night before his expected death (why he expects to die is also not clear), David is having an existential crisis. As he dictates to his son, Solomon, how the country should be handled after his passing, he demands to see his old friend, the prophet Nathan. David wants Nathan to give the eulogy at his funeral. Once summoned, the older Nathan (who is more like Larry David than a spiritual wise man) balks at the idea for some reason. Soon, the two men begin a review of David’s eventful life. As the memories begin to unfold, a younger, hunky, red-haired David steps out from the past. (His red-hair is also pointed out in song in case you missed it.) Through the device of his younger self, King David and Nathan watch the monarch’s life unspool before their eyes and debate where the king went right, where he went wrong and whether or not he lived up to his potential in this existence.

Jacob Louchheim (far left) and cast
Olivia Vadnais and Jacob Louchheim (center) and cast

The show feels very influenced by classic musicals like Kismet or huge biblical films like The Ten Commandments or Ben Hur, with its encompassing set, big sound and a multitude of sword and sandal-type costumes by Ashley Soliman. Choreography by director Kyle Pleasant works a bit too hard in its cute, quick, Busby Berkeley-style maneuvering of lots of bodies on that limited stage (and, miraculously, without any obvious collisions). Indeed, Pleasant’s focus seems to be only on the movement. Under his direction, the dialogue scenes play fairly flat while performances are inconsistent. Also, Pleasant seems to have missed simple inconsistencies like Nathan wearing a wedding ring while explaining how he chose spirituality over marriage or David’s changing hair color.

Ethan Zeph (center) and cast
Ethan Zeph (center) and cast

The humor is pretty corny with jokes about a prophet not understanding his prophecies and a giggling take (and production number) on sodomy. Performances seem mostly about the performer’s personality with the noted exceptions of Jacob Louchheim as Jonathan and Olivia Vadnais as David’s wife, Michal. Both actors have strong voices and try to find some level of complexity (not easy with this plodding book) within their characters. Danny Arnold, a great singer,  offers a strong, if one note, Saul.  Ethan Zeph is quite appealing as the Young David but often seems more current frat boy than future leader of Israel.

Olivia Vadnaisand, Ethan Zeph (center), Timothy Warmen (rear right)
Danny Arnold, Jacob Loucheim, Ethan Zeph, Timothy Warmen and cast

Timothy Warmen, as the title character, is an affecting singer and good actor. His older, wiser David is more on the goofy side than one would expect, yet Warmen delivers the most interesting acting work of the company. As Nathan, Kenny Morris ably plays second banana to Warmen as the unofficial spirit guide for David’s life review. The music by Tapper exhibits great musicianship but sounds like variations on a theme and soon blends together, with the exception of the fun patter song Ladies and the moving ballad Something Was Ending. Scenic Design by James J Fenton is impressive in its detail and scope in creating a street circa 1000 BCE. However, it also feels shoehorned into the smallish AMT stage, sometimes overpowering the actors and adding to an overall sense of clutter throughout.

Timothy Warmen, Ethan Zeph (rear), Kenny Morris

The life of King David may be worthy of musical treatment but not one as unwieldy as this. With some extensive trimming and focus, there’s probably a solid show in there somewhere. Maybe Solomon could be hired to make the edits. I hear he grew up to be very good at cutting things in half.

Kenny Morris, Ethan Zeph, Timothy Warmen and cast

photos by Russ Rowland

David – A New Musical
AMT Theater, 354 W 45th St — between 8th and 9th Aves.
Wed at 2 & 7; Thurs & Fri at 7; Sat at 2 & 7; Sun at 3
ends on July 13, 2024
for tickets ($65), visit AMT

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