FLASH FRIDAY: Raul Leaps Back To Broadway
It is a rare enough occurrence for a genuine born and bred Broadway star to emerge post-millennium, but one as astonishingly versatile as Raul Esparza, having scored accolades since his blazing debut in a string of hit plays and musicals, ranging from Mamet and Sondheim and Pinter to CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG and his aforementioned Broadway bow in THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, is a downright cause for celebration. Esparza makes his grand return to the Broadway stage in a musical with his upcoming starring role in Alan Menken & Glenn Slater's adaptation of the Steve Martin film LEAP OF FAITH, featuring a country and gospel influenced score and a spirited, energetic production by Christopher Ashley (who, incidentally, helmed Esparza's first Broadway show, ROCKY HORROR). While Esparza has been seen in many - most, if not quite all - Broadway seasons in the decade since 2001, he has also scored in leading roles in regional productions such as 2002's spectacular SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE and MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG revivals, part of the unprecedented Sondheim Celebration, as well as the Cincinnati Playhouse COMPANY, directed by John Doyle, which transferred to Broadway and was subsequently preserved on DVD and Blu-ray, in addition to being presented on PBS as part of Great Performances. Besides Esparza's many notable musical revival performances (lest we forget his essaying of the Emcee in CABARET), he also created the Broadway iterations of his roles in the controversial and brilliantly scored TABOO, produced by Rosie O'Donnell and composed by Boy George, as well as the stage adaptation of the hit family classic CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, as well as originating the lead role in TICK, TICK...BOOM! Having played three of Sondheim's most memorable male roles was not enough, though, apparently, for Esparza recently took on the part of the hapless Hapgood in Sondheim's ANYONE CAN WHISTLE when it was revived at City Center's Encores! - with Tony-winners Donna Murphy and Sutton Foster his co-stars, no less - with much success. Yet, in one of a myriad of examples of the broad spectrum of Esparza's abilities, it is instructive to remember he first made a name for himself with the role of Che in an Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice show, directed by no less than the ultimate man of the theatre himself, Harold Prince - EVITA, which, of course, is being revived this season with Ricky Martin in the role of Che. Besides Esparza's many musical roles throughout the past decade and prior, he has also carved out a seriously impressive straight drama resume, having appeared in plays by the great playwrights of our age, such as Pinter (THE HOMECOMING), Mamet (SPEED-THE-PLOW), Stoppard (ARCADIA) and, the greatest of all, Shakespeare (AS YOU LIKE IT, part of Shakespeare In The Park). ROCKY HORROR to ARCADIA to, now, with LEAP OF FAITH, Esparza constantly and consistently surprises fans and audiences alike with his audacious choice in roles and electrifying performances that are indelibly enjoyable in their uniqueness, variety and sheer breadth of emotion - time and time again. Yes, indeed, Raul Esparza is the best of the best Broadway has to offer, so let us hope LEAP OF FAITH is the ideal star vehicle for one of the most charismatic and multi-talented leading men of the 21st century and that it brings him his well-deserved Best Actor Tony at last.
Today, we will celebrate Esparza's Broadway return with a look back at some of his past glories, as well as a look ahead to LEAP OF FAITH, which begins previews on April 3 at the St. James Theatre.
More information on LEAP OF FAITH is available here.
Let's Do The Time Warp Again
Kicking off the countdown, check out this week's press meet and greet with the cast and creative team of LEAP OF FAITH with Raul and company giving an exceptionally roof-raising rendition of some the score's gospel knockouts and more!
Next, let's go back to one of Esparza's most cherished performances to date - Bobby in COMPANY. Here he is on the 2007 Tony Awards performing Sondheim's searing and emotional "Being Alive".
"Someone Is Waiting" shows the softer, more tender side of both the character and the impressive vocal and dramatic abilities of Esparza himself, as this clip from the DVD/Blu-ray amply presents.
Then, there is the song interpolated into the COMPANY score for precisely the reason of the powerhouse moment it can afford performers like Esparza - "Marry Me A Little". This thrilling live clip is taken from the CBS EARLY SHOW.
Moving from one Sondheim to another (or three), first, sample two performances from the Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration: Raul as George in SUNDAY and Raul as Charley in MERRILY!
First, here is a SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE performance capture and Esparza's "Finishing The Hat". Flawless.
Here is MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG - "Franklin Shepard, Inc." is also Esparza at his very, very best!
Raul Esparza is at home with Sondheim, for sure, and, for even further proof, now, let's take a look at Raul's most recent Sondheim revival role: Hapgood in ANYONE CAN WHISTLE in 2010. Sample his stupendous rapport and chemistry with Sutton Foster in this performance clip collection from the Encores! revival. He's obviously four for four with Sondheim - at least so far!
Now, let's go all the way back to where it began - yes, let's do the time warp again! ROCKY HORROR on THE ROSIE O'DONNELL SHOW, alongside Alice Ripley, Tom Hewitt and the rest of the Circle In The Square revival cast.
From appearing on Rosie's show to starring in her first foray into Broadway producing a few short years later, here is Raul Esparza singing a song he didn't actually perform in TABOO, but that doesn't rob the song of any of its power or Esparza of a compelling delivery - a "Talk Amongst Yourselves" that will, well, leave you doing just that.
Singing another epic song originally introduced by a diva, here is "Defying Gravity" from WICKED as only Raul could do it.
Closing out the female covers contingent of today's clip collection, here is Esparza performing the classic Judy Garland torch song by Harold Arlen, "The Man That Got Away".
Lastly, going all the back to where it began, here is an impossibly young Raul Esparza as Che in Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice's timeless classic EVITA, just before he took New York by storm, in this montage from the millennium 20th anniversary tour directed by Hal Prince.
So, which Raul Esparza performance has been your favorite so far? Do you think LEAP OF FAITH will provide him his best opportunity to date to wow us with his considerable skills? Whatever happens next, it is clear to see that Esparza's future is more blindingly bright on Broadway than the sequins from that mirrored coat in the promo pictures for LEAP OF FAITH! He's a dazzler, no doubt about it.