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Musical "David' finds its true voice in song

Musicals based on Bible stories have a shaky history. For every artistic success (Jesus Christ Superstar, for example) there are dozens of failures.

One reason such shows proliferate: Even if they're poorly conceived and performed, they can succeed commercially by marketing themselves to church congregations eager for entertainment with a Christian message.

But David, the new musical by Danny Hamilton and Gary Richardson, is a show that anyone who loves musical theater _ anyone who loves music _ will embrace. Hamilton's songs are gorgeous, and as performed by the terrific onstage band and astounding eight-person cast, the music is, well, inspirational.

Hamilton and Richardson are a local team who scored a huge hit with their previous Bible-based show, The Rock & the Rabbi, which premiered six years ago and played around the country.

David, which premiered last week, has the potential to equal that success.

There are some weaknesses, almost all of which come from the nonmusical aspects.

Most importantly, the narration is awkward. David, played by Neal Coomer, tells his own story in a prolonged conversation with God. The premise is a bit silly at first, because God presumably knows the story.

As the show continues, the premise gets more annoying. It might work if Richardson, who wrote the book, used it as an introductory gimmick and then let the play proceed in a more theatrical way. But David narrates the entire story, with short dramatic scenes punctuating the storytelling. It makes for uninvolving theater.

In the TBPAC production, the voices are uniformly beautiful, the harmonies occasionally so stunning that they give you chills. But the acting is lackluster at best. In fact the best actor is Josh Hailey, the keyboardist in the band who steps out to take a small role.

It's hard to call the narrative portion of the show "filler," exactly, but Hamilton's music is so rich that you can't help but wish the cast would stop talking and get to the next song.

There's not a bad song out of the 15 that Hamilton has provided. A few are great _ With All of My Heart, beautifully sung by Coomer and Erin Knight Hailey is a standout _ and only two (the first and last songs, unfortunately) are mediocre.

The five-piece band is stellar; drummer Scott Stahley and upright bassist Bobby Brennan are especially impressive.

The sound quality is as close to perfect as possible, and the simple, expansive set combines with a well-executed lighting design to give the show a sense of majesty.

The only technical downside is the costumes. The actors are in modern dress, which is fine, but it looks like they're wearing whatever they happened to put on that morning. Coomer wears an absolutely ugly sweater.

But the weaknesses are overpowered by the strengths. Hamilton's songs are so pretty that they stay with you for days. David doesn't bring new insight or interpretation to the Bible story, but provides its own kind of profound inspiration.

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