We wanted to take a moment with GARY MORGENSTEIN, the book writer for a new musical – KING DAVID
Collaborating with film composer and conductor, Shadi Pourkashef, Gary, known well as a television publicist he now wears the mantel of playwright, novelist, and now – with this as his third musical – book writer with pride and class. Still in its infancy, Morgentsein & Pourkashef have written select scenes and a few songs.
W4M wanted to get to these artists before the lines are as long as Hamilton!
Tell us why you wanted to write a musical about King David?
David is my favorite story in the Bible. Everyone sort of thinks they know the story – didn’t he knock out Goliath and have an affair with Bathsheeba – but not quite. He was a fascinating and complex personality whose incredible achievements, tragic passions and complex flaws have influenced dramatists from Shakespeare and the ancient Greeks to writers today. David has everything: a poor boy who rises to power as a warrior-king, betrays and is betrayed, loves and loses love, unites a people, conflicted relationships with his children and God. Hubris and ego and roguish charm and astonishing charisma off the charts. There’ve been chunks of his story told, but his entire extraordinary life from shepherd boy to King has never been fully realized on a musical stage like KING DAVID.
I’m hearing that there are rap songs, disco tunes, as well as conventional Broadway fare. Tell us your thought-process on the score.
We want the music to be diverse and non-traditional from standard musical and choreography, without any 30-foot high camel puppets roaming the stage. The music must capture the times while making it accessible. Composer-lyricist Shadi Pourkashef is going to use some original instrumentation from that period without hopefully having to break into a museum.
Does the dialogue match? Will we hear Biblical characters talk in modern tongue?
While we’re faithful to the Davidic epic, this is not a Bible Class set to music. Shadi and I are interpreting KING DAVID in a contemporary and universal fashion that makes it accessible while retaining the world of 3,000 years ago. And layering in humor. A First Act song is Foreskins, a wonderful comic rap tune written by Shadi and Da’Jon James, as the increasingly unstable and jealous King Saul demands that, if the ambitious David wants to marry his daughter Michal, he must first bring back 100 Philistine foreskins. It was rare for a Philistine to make such a donation, even in the name of love. You can see where David’s suicide mission influenced later writers such as L. Frank Baum when the Wizard of Oz insisted that if Dorothy and Company wanted his help, they had to get the Wicked Witch’s broom.
Do you think this will make the Bible more accessible?
These complex people are not symbols or parables, but identifiable characters with all their flaws and strengths. Love, power, ambition, greed, loyalty, jealousy and betrayal belong as much to Earth 2019 as it did to the world of 1,000 BC. Although we want to entertain, our musical is infused with spirituality, yet not geared to a particular religion or even necessarily encouraging a belief in God. David himself struggled with his faith. Shadi, who is of Persian descent, and myself, a Jew, are heirs to ancient civilizations deeply influenced by the Davidic story, along with billions across the world whose lives have been changed by the stories and the characters of the Bible. We want to touch that incredible soul of humanized faith.
What are the challenges you face writing/composing for the musical theater?
You want to be loyal to your vision and give the audience something familiar they haven’t seen before while taking risks. Look, we’re presenting the story of David. Talk about leaning into a pre-existing brand. Take that King Kong. We’ll get criticized no matter what direction we go. One of the songs is Distance, about Jonathan’s heartbreaking love for David. That could upset some people. As long as we’re honest to the story in an intelligent and entertaining production, we’ve done our job. It’s when you pander that you go down the rabbit hole because the audience will recognize that you’re putting out insincerity. And there is no greater joy for an artist than reaching a perfect stranger. Make them smile, cry, think. Or just watch them leave the theatre humming a song. That’s the magic of musical theater.
Where do you hope the show goes?
There’s a tremendous loss of faith in our country. Now KING DAVID isn’t intended to drive people into churches, mosques and synagogues nor are we making any political statements. This is actually a play not about Donald Trump, which also makes it unique. Nor is this metaphoric for our times. Too often, we’re so consumed with the instantaneous minutia of the present that we conveniently dismiss the past. As the Talmud says, “Before you know where you are going, you must first know from whence you came.” And the powerful and compelling story of KING DAVID is very much part of the world’s collective history which will have great appeal. I think it’d be pretty cool to have productions in New York, Jerusalem, Rome and Cairo.
Gary can be followed at @writergary. Garymorgensteinauthor.com.