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Musical puts David in spotlight

For weeks, Danny Hamilton searched the Old Testament looking for the perfect character for his new musical.

There were hundreds to choose from.

There was Adam, to start with. The prophet Elijah. And even Moses.

But as he struggled on, one name kept trespassing in his mind. He was a person who was both courageous and flawed, a man who once killed another man to get his beautiful wife. He was also a great harp player, warrior and poet.

A favorite of God, he was the man who wrote "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."

It was David, the king of Israel, ancestor of Jesus and the man credited with taking down the mammoth Goliath with a slingshot.

It would be a musical about a real-life singer.

"He is such a large character," said Hamilton, the composer. "Everybody knows the story about David and Goliath. We figured it would make a great musical."

In a quiet cabin on the Withlacoochee River, he read David's Psalms least 100 times to get to know the man.

Over 18 months, he wrote the lyrics and composed the score for the production.

On Thursday it opens at the 268-seat Jaeb Theatre at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center in downtown Tampa.

"David's been a hero to so many people for so long," said Gary Richardson, co-author and Hamilton's creative partner. "We hope people, when they leave, will be better acquainted with this man God loved so much."

As David opens, Hamilton and Richardson are watching their first biblical musical, The Rock and the Rabbi, go national. A company called Celebrity Attractions purchased the rights to the story and will take it on a national six-market tour, including Dallas and Oklahoma City, Okla.

"We've been waiting seven years for this," Richardson said.

The Rock and the Rabbi played at the Lambs Theatre, just two blocks from Times Square in Manhattan, in 2002. But its roots are from Pinellas County.

The Rock and the Rabbi premiered at Ruth Eckerd Hall and played at Palm Harbor United Methodist Church, where Richardson worships, and Harborside Christian Church, where Hamilton is the music minister.

David begins when the protagonist is a 16-year-old shepherd being anointed by the prophet Samuel. Although David went on to rule for 40 years, the musical covers only 10 years of his life, focusing on his conflict with the outgoing King Saul and the ruler's bitterness, jealousy and attempt to kill David.

The cast will be costumed not in robes but "New York chic," Richardson said.

In the famous David and Goliath scene, Hamilton and Richardson will use a large dark shadow and throaty disembodied voice to portray the giant Philistine fighter.

The cast includes Broadway performer George Merritt as King Saul. Merritt is well known in theater circles, having had leading roles in Big River, Jekyll and Hyde, Porgy and Bess and Ain't Misbehavin'.

Belinda Womack, a Tampa Bay jazz singer, will play Abigail.

Neal Coomer, who had a leading role in The Rock and the Rabbi, will portray David.

"We want people to be entertained," Hamilton said. "When they leave here, they will be inspired to follow David in all the values he represents, such as courage, loyalty, selflessness and faithfulness."

Eileen Schulte can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or schultesptimes.com.

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