Thursday, April 26, 2012

Off The Bus

Photo credit: Joan Marcus
I had high hopes for you, Leap of Faith. When I saw you in Los Angeles, I thought you were flawed, but I saw potential in you. I thought maybe a new creative team could fix you, but they only created new, worse problems. Though the efforts of your cast are commendable, I doubt even Jonas Nightingale could perform a miracle that would save you now.

Leap of Faith, based on the 1992 Steve Martin movie, opened at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles in October, 2010. It was directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford, replaced by Memphis's director, Christopher Ashley, and choreographer, Sergio Trujillo for the Broadway production. Warren Leight was recruited to fix the book by Janus Cercone and Glenn Slater. Alan Menken and Slater remained as composer and lyricist.

Jonas Nightingale (Raรบl Esparza) is a preacher who, with the help of his sister Sam (Kendra Kassebaum) and his Angels of Mercy, goes from town to town, conning desperate people out of their money with his religious revival. His bus gets stranded in Sweetwater, Kansas, a small town in the middle of a drought, and Sheriff Marla McGown (Jessica Phillips) allows him to stay for three days. In LA, the love interest was a waitress played by Brooke Shields. Marla's son, Jake (Talon Ackerman), who has been in a wheelchair ever since a car accident killed his father, is convinced that Jonas can make him walk again. What follows contains a spoiler alert, but if you've ever seen 110 in the Shade or The Music Man, you know exactly where this is going. At the end of the show, not only does the boy walk, but it rains. It may seem like a small thing, but it's a lot easier to accept one miracle than two, especially in a short amount of time.

The ballet that opened the show in LA isn't missed, but the new conceit is that Jonas Nightingale has set up a religious revival at the St. James and we are his audience. It's not a bad idea, but the characters actually stop during the show to explain their actions, which is not only lazy, but shows a lack of faith (sorry about the choice of words) in the audience.

This isn't my favorite Menken score--the gospel numbers all sound similar (do we really need two Menken gospel musicals on Broadway), but there were a few memorable songs: "I Can Read You," a more traditional musical theater duet, helped by the chemistry of Esparza and Phillips and "Are You on the Bus?" which showcases the powerhouse vocals of Krystal Joy Brown, who deserves a better musical to showcase her talents, as does the appealing Leslie Odom, Jr. And then there's Esparza, whose dedication to this show is admirable. He works really hard on that stage and has moments of intense brilliance, especially in the 11 o'clock number "Jonas's Soliloquy" (unfortunately in front of a starry background--Robin Wagner did the sets), but even his performance seems to be missing something since the LA run.

The closest thing to a miracle this show has is costume designer William Ivey Long, not only for the disco ball jacket, which got entrance applause, but for Bryce Ryness's (one of the Angels of Mercy) tight and very appealing costume.

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