Friday, July 23, 2010

On the Radar: Leap of Faith

I've never seen the Steve Martin - Debra Winger movie, but from what I've read about the plot and characters, Leap of Faith seems like a natural for the drama of live theatre and seems ripe for natural places to put in musical numbers.

The story of a traveling evangelist/flim-flam man, Reverend Jonas Nightengale (Raul Esparza) who, along with his sister/sidekick, Sam (Kendra Kassebaum), makes a stop in a small mid-western town.  There, he is challenged in everything he believes in by Marva (Brooke Shields), a waitress and struggling single mother.

The Stars: Raul Esparza, Brooke Shields,
Kendra Kassebaum and Jarrod Emick 

The show is written by Janus Cercone, who wrote the screenplay, and Glenn Slater, who also contributes lyrics to Alan Menken's (Beauty and the Beast, Little Shop of Horrors) score.  Menken and Slater last collaborated on The Little Mermaid.

The Writers: Alan Menken and Glenn Slater

The potent combination of religion vs ethics, the poor looking for something to believe in again, and a villain who undergoes a metamorphosis really appeals to me.  I am hoping that that the show will have several strong themes and won't be afraid to address them, rather than sugar-coat the issues. 

Headlined by  Esparza (Company, Taboo), Shields (Grease!, Cabaret, Wonderful Town) and Kassebaum (Wicked), the show co-stars Jarrod Emick (Tony-winner, Damn Yankees, The Boy from Oz), Kecia Lewis-Evans (The Drowsy Chaperone), Nicholas Barasch (West Side Story) and newcomer Leslie Odom, Jr. 

The ensemble is also full of Broadway veterans and newcomers: Brad Anderson (A Chorus Line), Bradley Benjamin, Tom Berklund (Broadway Bares 19.0), Christopher Bones, Krystal Joy Brown, Ta'Rea Campbell (The Lion King), Eric L. Christian (Cry-Baby, South Pacific), Michelle Duffy, Harvey Evans (Anyone Can Whistle, Sunset Boulevard) , Ashley Blair Fitzgerald, Jennie Ford (All Shook Up, Dance of the Vampires), Bob Gaynor (Taboo, AIDA), Angela Grovey, Shannon Lewis (Fosse, Curtains), Michael X. Martin (Curtains, Ragtime), Maurice Murphy (Spelling Bee), Anise E. Ritchie, Darcie Roberts (Curtains, AIDA), Bryce Ryness (Hair, Legally Blonde), Ariel Shepley, C.E. Smith (The Full Monty), Alex Michael Stoll, Dennis Stowe (Shrek, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), Katherine Tokarz (Rock of Ages, White Christmas), Brandon Wardell (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Assassins), Karl Warden, Natalie Willes (Saturday Night Fever) and Charlie Williams (Broadway Bares 20, Memphis).

The Director/Choreographer:
Rob Ashford

Considering the pedigree of the creative staff - the show will be directed and choreographed by Promises, Promises' Rob Ashford - and the top notch cast, this seems to really be pushing for Broadway.  Let's hope it goes the way of Hairspray, and not the way of The First Wives Club!

The world premiere will run at L.A.'s Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre, September 11 - October 24, with opening night scheduled for October 3.

Comments?  Leave one here or email me at


  1. Yes, it's definitely gunning for Broadway. I had the pleasure of attending the workshop presentation directed by Taylor Hackford two years ago and then the reading Rob Ashford directed in NYC for investors.

    You get your wish--the writing is very real and not sugar coated at all. In some parts, it might actually be too somber to play well to audiences who are just looking for escape and light hearted entertainment. What hurts the project the most is that you don't really like Raul's character, Jonas, all that much--not in the way we like other shysters from musical theatre history such as Harold Hill in The Music Man. In that musical, it's almost fun to see Mr. Hill charming the town folk out of their hard earned dollars. In Leap of Faith, it seems downright cruel since the town folk are so down on their luck.

    What must be celebrated is this brilliant score! Gospel number after gospel number bring down the house. Best lyrics to come to Broadway in a reaaaal long time. As I said, however, your unease about siding with the hucksters prevents you from being completely won over by the big production numbers in the revival tent.

    It is a story of redemption, and by the end, I think people will be moved and changed. However, the redemption comes very late in the musical, perhaps too late. You aren't pulling for Jonas and Jane to fall in love because in contrast to the cheesiness of a traditional musical, the writer acknowledges that people in real life are slow to change (speaking of the writer, you got her name wrong. It's Janus Cercone).

    There are still a lot to recommend about it and I hope it does well!

  2. Infinity,

    WOW! How lucky you are to have seen workshops! I'm jealous!

    And thank you for the insight into the show as it is. I wonder if they will lighten up the Jonas character a little? Or maybe they are going for the "Pal Joey" treatment, a very unlikeable character? I like dark, and I LOVE Raul Esparza, so I have a feeling I'll like it no matter what. Plus Brooke Shields can be so strong, maybe he will have met his match!

    We'll see! Keep reading and writing! I appreciate your taking the time.



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