LEAP OF FAITH Send This Review to a Friend
Although the book by Janus Cerone and Warren Leight is as corny as they come,
a dazzlingly intense performance by Raúl Esparza and hyper staging that in effect turns the theater into a revival meeting makes “Leap of Faith” an energetic Broadway musical. It is another case of a show being based on a movie, and in that “Leap of Faith” the role Esparza now has made his own was played by Steve Martin.
The show’s music is by Alan Menken with lyrics by Glenn Slater, and before the performance begins officially cast members are going down the aisles passing our fake money to be put into the collection baskets that will be passed and urging audience members to get into the spirit.
The plot involves Esparza as Jonas Nightingale, a charlatan preacher and his traveling evangelicals. They pitch a tent in which Nightingale performs so-called miracles while milking townsfolk of as much cash as possible. This particular Kansas town needs rain.
There is a pretty local sheriff, Marla McGowan, played by attractive Jessica Phillips, whom Nightingale successfully hits on. Phillips is a charismatic performer who sings very well, and that helps the production considerably. Of course, Marla’s duty is to expose the preacher for the fake that he is. She has a 13-year-old handicapped son, Jake, played with charming openness by Talon Ackerman, and be believes the preacher can make him walk. You can see where this is all going.
The musical’s strength derives from its rousing numbers put across by the excellent chorus of singers and dancers under the musical supervision by Michael Kosarin, choreography by Sergio Trujillo and direction by Christopher Ashley. Everyone appears to be giving their all, especially Esparza, who is super slick in both his acting and singing.
Sophisticates may tend to dismiss the show because of its cornpone book and a resistance to such revival meetings. But hell, I have some leg pains from pinched nerves and was ready to up on stage to see what Esparza could do for me. Just kidding. But that’s the sort of atmosphere raging in this show. At the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200.