Get ready for your close up. It’s show time! At the revival meeting that is being held at the St. James Theatre called “Leap of Faith” an on stage security guy with hand held video cam films the audience “live” – while it is shown on video screens – as to put us all in a “You Are There” moment, preparing for the entrance of Jonas Nightingale (an energetic and strangely cold Raul Esparza), the con man evangelist and fraudulent faith healer who will be delivering the voice of God messages to all us sinners in rousing gospel songs (Alan Menken – music & Glenn Slater – lyrics) and not so rousing dance (Sergio Trujillo).
It’s gimmicky and hokey. To make matters worse, cast members try to get us to raise our arms in “Hallelujah” ecstasy while distributing fake dollars to drop into the basket that the fake Nightingale passes around for donations. I wish director Christopher Ashley had just told the Elmer Gantry meets The Music Man story in a straightforward manner.
Will the charlatan Nightingale who tricks the townspeople into believing in miracles while bilking them of their hard earned cash with the help of his shyster sister Sam (Kendra Kassebaum) finally find the miracle in his own life to make him a true believer?
Will Jake McGowan (a poised and honest Talon Ackerman) the son of the Sheriff – Marla McGowan (Jessica Phillips) who sees right through Nightingale but nevertheless falls for his charm and right into his bed walk again after he became wheel chair bound and guilt ridden over the car accident that killed his dad three years ago?
Will the drought be lifted by a miracle torrential rain storm?
All these questions and more will be somewhat answered if you care to sit through “Leap of Faith” which features some fine gospel singing (“Rise Up” & “Step Into the Light”) by Ida Mae Sturdevant (Kecia Lewis-Evans) head bookkeeper and her daughter Ornella (Krystal Joy Brown) and the Angels of Mercy choir.
Isaiah (Leslie Odom, Jr.) her Bible College son tries to be an honest man of God and has the sweetest most beautiful voice on stage. His heavenly “Walking Like Daddy” is a nice respite from the otherwise forgettable score.
Stranded with no funds to pay his Angels of Mercy and straddled with a broken down bus Jonas decides to set up shop, actually his tent which doth riseth and turneth on stage before our eyes (Robin Wagner) and couldn’t possibly fit into the bus when disassembled hoping to make enough money with his sermons and songs and then skedaddle.
But Jonas meets Sheriff Marla and her son Jake who knows some magic tricks but not as many as Jonas who with all his “smoke and mirrors” act (and disco ball jacket – William Ivey Long) attempting to make the miracles happen that everyone is waiting for. Especially for Jake, who truly believes that Jonas will heal him, enabling him to walk.
Based on the 1992 motion picture starring Steve Martin and written by Janus Cercone who together with Warren Leight is responsible for the awkward book, “Leap of Faith” is just too hard to believe.
www.leapoffaithbroadway.com Photo: Joan Marcus
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