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King David (musical)

King David is a musical, sometimes described as a modern oratorio, with a book and lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Alan Menken. The musical is based on Biblical tales from the Books of Samuel and 1 Chronicles, as well as text from David's Psalms.

King David
King David Musical Highlights.jpg
MusicAlan Menken
LyricsTim Rice
BookTim Rice
BasisBiblical story of David
Productions1997 Broadway concert

Description and historyEdit

King David is mostly sung-through with little dialogue, and the music swings from pop to jazz to grand choral arrangements. It uses a large orchestra and a large choir.

The work was conceived as an outdoor piece to commemorate the 3,000th anniversary of the city of Jerusalem. However, according to Rice, "When it proved logistically and financially impossible to do it and Disney took an interest, we changed gears.... We felt we'd been commissioned to write it as an oratorio, and still hoped it would be performed as such in Israel. ... we should have emphasized that more to avoid being judged primarily as a Broadway show."[1]



1.  PROLOGUE:  King David, the great King of all Israel, is dying.  His long-serving (but not always obedient) general and henchman, Joab, ushers Bathsheba, and her young son Solomon, into the King's presence.  Bathsheba is determined that Solomon, rather than any of David's sons by other wives, will succeed to the throne.  The death of Bathsheba's first husband Uriah, engineered by David many years before, remains an horrendous stain on their lives.  She believes complete atonement for the crime is only possible if their son becomes a God-fearing king.  The cynic Joab is unimpressed.  He reminds Bathsheba that if it had not been for the prophet Samuel's strange choice of Saul as Israel's first king, none of this would have mattered.

2.  SAMUEL:  Joab recalls how Samuel deliberately chose Israel's first king to be a man he thought would not be up to the job, in order that the people would demand a return to rule by holy judges, controlled by Samuel.  Saul however is a great success and Samuel is forced to undermine the military victories of the king he appointed.  Samuel tells Saul that he had disobeyed God's command by sparing the life of Agag, the defeated Amalekite king.  Saul is appalled when Samuel murders Agag in cold blood and the rift between king and prophet widens irrevocably.  Samuel determines to find a replacement for Saul and travels to Bethlehem whence he has heard tales of a gifted youth, David, the son of Jesse.  On meeting David, Samuel immediately realizes that the young shepherd is a future leader of Israel.  Samuel anoints a slightly bewildered but composed David.

3.  SAUL:  Saul wrestles with his inner demons.  His court is awash with rumor that Samuel is attempting to depose Saul and replace him with David, who happens to be a cousin of the ubiquitous Joab.  In any event, David has been summoned to sing for Saul.  His Psalm of devotion to God calms the restless king who, in relaxed mood, asks David about himself and about his contact with Samuel.  David gives little away.  Before David is sent home, Joab introduces him to Saul's son, Jonathan, and to Saul's daughter, Michal.  He is immediately captivated by Michal and the seeds of the greatest of friendships, between David and Jonathan, are quickly sewn.

4.  GOLIATH:  The Israelite and Philistine armies face each other across the Valley of Elah.  Neither side is able to advance.  The Philistines parade one of their number up and down the valley, the gargantuan Goliath, who hurls a continuous stream of abuse towards the Israelites.  Goliath challenges the Israelites to find a champion to fight him, the winner of this personal conflict to determine the outcome of the larger battle.  No Israelite soldier is willing to face the giant and Saul is paralyzed with indecision.  Suddenly David appears with provisions for his brothers, some of whom are in the Israelite army.  To the amusement of all, David volunteers to fight Goliath on behalf of Israel.  He is taken to Saul.  Saul assumes David has heard that the man who kills Goliath will have Michal's hand in marriage.  David hadn't heard but is delighted to accept the deal.  Saul is convinced that David is going straight to his death but grants him permission to fight.  David kills the slow moving Goliath with a stone from his sling and the elated Israelites rout the Philistines.  David, who has become a national hero, is made a general to Saul's forces.  David vows to return the Ark of the Covenant to Israel.  He marries Michal.  She is as in love with him as he is with her.

5.  JONATHAN:  Public enthusiasm for David is overwhelming.  Jonathan, with whom David has sworn a covenant of friendship, warns David that Saul is dangerously resentful of his protege's success and popularity.  David attempts to show his unwavering respect and love for Saul but this time his Psalm is greeted by violent anger and an attempt on his life.  David is urged by both Jonathan and Michal to leave the court before he is killed.  Joab has switched allegiance to David and leads him into exile following his emotional farewell to wife and closest friend.

6.  EXILE:  David and his few supporters are on the run.  David “the hunted partridge on the hill.”  An enraged Saul gives Michal to a new husband as Israel begins to suffer serious military setbacks.  Years pass.  David renews his promise to regain the Ark and gradually increases his outlaw following.  Saul is now assailed by both the Philistines and David.  One night Joab informs David that Saul has camped within a mile of David's settlement and this would be the chance to take him by surprise and destroy him.  David decides otherwise and sneaks into Saul's headquarters on his own, stealing the king's water and spear as proof of his nocturnal visit and mercy.  The rivals address each other across a valley.  The paranoid Saul cannot understand why David did not kill him, yet accuses him of wanting to claim his crown and taunts him about Michal.  David by now has a son he loves dearly, Absalom, by one of his new wives, but laments the loss of Michel and his rejection by Saul.  Saul becomes increasingly unstable as the Philistines close in.  He invokes the ghost of Samuel who prophesies his imminent death at Gilboa, along with that of his sons.  On the eve of the encounter with the Philistines at Gilboa Jonathan reassures Saul that his love for David never affected his love for his father, but Saul is beyond reason.  Jonathan is killed in the battle and Saul falls on his own sword, tormented by feelings for David he cannot understand.  David sings his famous tribute to Saul and Jonathan “How Are the Mighty Fallen.”


7.  DAVID THE KING:  David is now the king of all Israel.  He recalls his great heritage and vows to build a temple to the Lord.  He tells Absalom that he will in turn inherit his father's power and responsibilities.  David is reunited with Michal and at first their passion for each other seems undimmed.  David's great ambition to bring the Ark to Jerusalem is eventually fulfilled with enormous celebration but what the childless Michal sees as David's unholy obsession with his destiny and his lewd behavior at the Ark's return spells the end of their marriage.  Michal mourns her loss.

8.  BATHSHEBA:  David and his court have grown complacent.  David's formidable achievements in restoring the Ark, uniting the tribes of Israel and making the God-fearing nation strong against all opposition seems to have distracted him from government.  Fractions of opposition to the lethargic administration are gathering around Absalom.  One warm spring night, David sees a beautiful woman bathing on a roof.  Joab informs him that she is the wife of a Hittite in David's army, Uriah.  Despite Joab's warnings, David seduces the not unwilling Bathsheba.  She becomes pregnant and now Joab is charged with the task of avoiding the grave threat to David's political and personal position were the king to be exposed as an adulterer.  To do this he must marry Bathsheba but David baulks at the idea of simply killing Uriah.  They dissemble and decide to send Uriah to the most dangerous battlefront in order that his almost certain violent end may be attributed to fate – or to God.  Uruah is killed.  After the brief joy of the birth of his son by Bathsheba, David begins to be tormented by his conscience, manifest through visions of Saul and Samuel.  The baby dies and David attributes the infant's death to his great sin.  He begs forgiveness of God, achieves a tragic atonement, but the crime ensures that his relationship with Bathsheba will now be founded on guilt more than love.

9.  ABSALOM:  Absalom's rebellion is now out in the open.  Joab urges a short, sharp, bloody solution but David cannot contemplate the death of his favorite son.  Even the birth of another child, Solomon, by Bathsheba, does not affect David's love for Absalom.  Eventually he gives in to Joab and orders the crushing of the insurrection, although Absalom's life is to be spared.  Joab defeats Absalom's forces but on finding the young revolutionary caught in the branches of a tree by his flowing hair, brutally murders him.  David, still mindful of his collaboration with Joab in the death of Uriah, is unable to protest but pays desolate homage to his fallen offspring.

10.  DAVID’S FINAL DAYS:  The old king is fading, tended by a young concubine, Abishag.  Joab ushers Bathsheba and Solomon into David's presence as memories and ghosts of his past crowd in around him.  Bathsheba, Joab and Michal attempt to convince him that his life has been a glorious chapter in Israel's history.  David sees and hears Saul, Jonathan and Samuel as he struggles to believe them.  He acknowledges his failure to build the temple but finally anoints Solomon as his successor.  He makes peace with himself and his final earthly companions.  He makes his peace with God as his long long day draws to a close.  Solomon succeeds Israel's greatest king. — Synopsis by Tim Rice

Musical numbersEdit


A concert version, produced by Disney Theatrical Productions and André Djaoui and directed by Mike Ockrent, was presented as the inaugural production at Disney's newly renovated New Amsterdam Theatre (the former home of the Ziegfeld Follies), playing for a nine-performance limited run in May 1997. The cast included Roger Bart, Stephen Bogardus, Judy Kuhn, Alice Ripley, Martin Vidnovic, and Michael Goz, with Marcus Lovett in the title role.[2] The piece ran two hours and 45 minutes[3] and was only partially staged.

On September 6, 1997, Patti LuPone, Davis Gaines, and Rebecca Luker gave a concert at the Hollywood Bowl that ended with three selections from King David.[4]

There was a production in Irving, Texas in 2004.[1]

Amateur and school productions include: Landmark Christian School Newnan, Georgia, near Atlanta in 2005. A concert performance was produced by NYU Steinhardt's Vocal Performance and the NYU Symphony Orchestra in conjunction with the authors on November 13 and 14, 2008. In the summer of 2012, Neighborhood Church in Castro Valley, California, near Oakland, performed the musical as part of their yearly Summer Musical Series.

At present, there are no plans for a fully staged Broadway production.

Opening night castEdit

Critical responseEdit

The 1997 debut concert performance provoked a lukewarm review by The New York Times. Ben Brantley wrote: "...the show is sober, respectful, packed with enough information for a month of Bible-study classes and, on its own terms, most carefully thought out, with pop equivalents of operatic motifs and exotic folkloric touches a la Borodin. Yet while the well-sung cast, under Mike Ockrent's direction, and the orchestra (Michael Kosarin is the music director and Douglas Besterman the orchestrator) have been painstakingly polished, the show, at two hours and 45 minutes, just can't help being a Goliath of a yawn."[3]

Variety called it "Unrelentingly serious-minded and devoid of the wit that Menken brought to previous projects".[5]

The cast album, however, which cuts several musical numbers and reprises, has been praised.[by whom?]


  1. ^ a b Jones, Kenneth. "Menken and Rice's King David Will Rule Again in 2004-05" Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine, August 23, 2004
  2. ^ "'King David' Broadway", accessed January 20, 2016
  3. ^ a b Brantley, Ben. "Theater Review. With Strobe Lights (but No Philistine Trophies), It's Disney's 'King David'" The New York Times, May 20, 1997
  4. ^ Isenberg, Barbara. "LuPone, Luker, Gaines and the Great White Way" Los Angeles Times, September 9, 1997
  5. ^ Evans, Greg. "Review: ‘King David’" Variety, May 20, 1997

External linksEdit