Rhythm and Jews converge in "David in Shadow and Light," a world-premiere, chockablock postmodern musical about Old Testament stone-slinger King David by Yehuda Hyman and Daniel Hoffman at Theater J.
The striving, busy show, directed by Nick Olcott, tries to cover too much ground, starting with King David's humble beginnings as a shepherd, when he is cutely portrayed as being an ovine Cesar Millan to a flock of googly-eyed puppet sheep. He is winningly played by Matt Pearson in his youth and by a schizophrenically campy and somber Bobby Smith in his older days.
The saga continues through his ascendance to the throne after slaying Goliath (embodied by Russell Sunday as a sneering, caterwauling punk rocker in the Marilyn Manson mold) and into his waning years as a once-great ruler wearily ceding power to his son Solomon (Mr. Pearson, in a dual role).
Even though King David can be seen as the ultimate multitasker — in more ways than one, as this Hebraic hottie had eight wives and countless paramours — it all becomes a biblical blur after a while.
The contradictions and ambitions of King David are reflected in the music, a queasy hybrid of klezmer, cheesy bossa-nova drumbeats, nursery rhymes and a smattering of hip-hop for the kids. Similarly, the libretto teeters between epic pronouncements, shticky double-takes and one-liners, and such anachronisms as having the B.C. David greeting everyone with a desultory "Hey."
Plopped on top of this is a subplot involving a homoerotic relationship between David and Saul's son Jonathan (Will Gartshore, who sings like a dream and ardently delivers the musical's banal and non-sequitur-laden lyrics).
There's more craziness surrounding David's first wife, Michal (Carolyn Agan), and another involving Adam (Norman Aronovic). Yes, that Adam, and he parks his wheelchair by the side of the stage and, along with a buttinsky angel named Metatron (Donna Migliaccio), watches David's life unfold like a home movie.
The show seems to go on longer than both books of Samuel and First Kings put together — especially the second act, when King David settles into a cantankerous malaise that is alleviated briefly by a vivid and sensual depiction of his fatal attraction to Batsheva (Peggy Yates, conveying both conflict and carnality), the wife of career army officer Uriah (Lawrence Redmond, touching as a guileless loyalist).
By the time David realizes that "we are only dirt" — before going to the afterlife, where he is reunited with, among others, his marionette sheep — you are feeling more like Methuselah. Despite sublime violin playing from Mr. Hoffman and a cast in fine voice, there is more oy than joy in "David."
WHAT: "David in Shadow and Light," libretto by Yehuda Hyman, music by Daniel Hoffman
WHERE: Theater J, 1529 16th St. NW
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through June 22.
TICKETS: $15 to $55
WEB SITE: www.theaterj.org
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS