Most people have trouble keeping up with one significant other. King Solomon had 700 wives, so imagine the straits he must have found himself in. Add to that the fact that several of his wives wouldn't convert to Judaism, ultimately corrupting him and leading to God's wrath on the people of Israel. Ginger Reiter's new musical 700 Wives is a dazzling and bright depiction of King Solomon, his romance with the Queen of Sheba, and his ultimate downfall. However, while the story is engaging, the production often fails to live up to the greatness of its subject. Students of the Old Testament may not appreciate 700 Wives style. It is a campy romp, chockablock with anachronisms (Jessica Simpson and Sarah Jessica Parker as potential wives of Solomon) and one liners. Bathsheba, Solomon's mother, who so bewitched King David with her rooftop bathing, is played as a stereotypical, overbearing Jewish mother by Andriana Pachella. After Solomon marries his 700 wives and things are not going so well, King Hiram of Tyre (a strong Ed Deacy), who originally told Solomon to marry his enemies' daughters and thus put off war, exclaims “did I tell him to eat every cookie in every box?”
Laughs abound, but some things just don't make sense. The characters occasionally use archaisms of English such as “thine” and “increaseth” which, while they imitate older translations of the Bible, don't fit in with the rest of the dialogue and language of the script. Solomon and Sheba's son Menelik is given a head of dreads and a Jamaican accent, even though he is the Ethiopian prince and predates Rastafarianism by several thousand years.
The song and dance numbers are not particularly remarkable. The prerecorded music sounds as if it were a demo tape. Worse still, it occasionally drowns out the vocals of the actors, despite the fact that there are several microphones. The chorus' voices do not blend well; it is possible to hear who is flat and who is straining for the high notes. There is one standout tune, however. The jazzy “Dust to Dust” features a live saxophone (played by Blanche Farrell Smith, who also does standout performance as one of the wives), and is a finger-poppingly catchy song.
Despite its campy nature and feel-good vibe, it is possible to walk away from the show with a relevant contemporary political message. As the story goes, God did not punish Solomon directly for straying, but instead held off punishment until his successor should reign. Echoes of the current situation in Iraq can be seen. The current king has made a mess, and it is left for the next in line to clean up the mess or suffer the consequences of someone else's actions.
700 Wives is ultimately a pretty run-of-the-mill musical dealing with what could be a pretty fascinating myth. Not much is known about the relationship between Solomon and Sheba; there are only thirteen verses in the Old Testament that describe her travels to Jerusalem. 700 Wives does a decent job of expanding the story and, intentionally or not, of connecting it to modern times. Fans of camp and corn will enjoy 700 Wives ; those with a more serious mind towards myth and legend had better stay away.