Restored New Amsterdam Spurs Revival in Times Square Historic Showplace Debuts 'King David' Musical

Article excerpt

Echoes of the original "Ziegfeld Follies" competed with the Old Testament epoch of King David May 18, as Times Square celebrated the rebirth of its most splendid showplace, the New Amsterdam Theater.

Built in 1903, the theater hosted for decades New York's most sophisticated musical revues, starring such luminaries as Fred Astaire, Fanny Brice, Jack Benny, and Will Rogers. Its Art Nouveau interior, one of America's first, rivaled the spectacles on stage in ornate detail. Following a 50-year period of slow decline and eventual closure, this landmark theater has been recently restored and is now premiering "King David," a concert event created by Alan Menken and Tim Rice.

Tracing the saga of Israel's first king, Saul, the sung-through musical is performed in the increasingly popular concert style. Using an onstage orchestra and singers who perform with a near-absence of props, sets, and special effects, the style was first employed successfully in "Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert," which has revived classics. "King David," at nearly three hours, stretches the form to its limit, although its A-list creative team - director Mike Ockrent, scenic designer Tony Walton, and lighting designer David Agress - manages to add spark to the endeavor. Any attempt at retelling a Biblical tale through contemporary words and music brings with it some predictable obstacles, notably the clash between reverential themes and modern sounds and images. Previous works, from "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Godspell" to numerous film scores from the 1950s set behind CinemaScope epics, have achieved some measure of success. "King David" does draw heavily from past achievements by its lyricist/book writer Rice, notably "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat," "Evita," and "Jesus Christ Superstar." But lacking the visual impact of a wide-screen motion picture, or the youthful exuberance and diverse musical styles of "Godspell," this composition relies on its large choral arrangements and full onstage orchestra. …