Review Roundup: LEAP OF FAITH Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!
Performances for LEAP OF FAITH began on Tuesday, April 3, and the show officially opened tonight at The St. James Theatre. Four-time Tony nominee Raúl Esparza leads the company along with Jessica Phillips, Kendra Kassebaum, Kecia Lewis-Evans, Leslie Odom, Jr., Krystal Joy Brown and Talon Ackerman.
Esparza stars as Jonas Nightingale, an electrifying performer and rabble-rouser who’s planning to take the whole town for a ride. But when a small-town girl stops him in his tracks, this hustler may just discover something to believe in.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Praise the Lord, and pass the amphetamines. “Leap of Faith,” which opened on Thursday night at the St. James Theater, uses the religious revival meeting as both its subject and its form. Yet reviving (or revivifying or inspiriting) is hardly the right adjective for it. Starring Raúl Esparza and based on the 1992 movie of the same title, “Leap of Faith” is this season’s black hole of musical comedy, sucking the energy out of anyone who gets near it.
Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press: The last musical of the official Broadway season comes into town like a huckster promising salvation. But it's the show itself that needs saving.There's a strong musical somewhere in "Leap of Faith," which stars a soulful Raul Esparza and has some of Alan Menken's best songs. But what opened Thursday at The St. James Theatre is sometimes confusing in its tone. Like its main character – the devious faith healer Rev. Jonas Nightingale, ready to scam residents of a down-and-out Kansas town – the musical is hard to pin down. There's too much misdirection.
Erik Haagensen, Backstage: You know you're in trouble at "Leap of Faith" even before the show starts, when actors pretending to be revivalists distribute what are supposed to be dollar bills to the audience, so we will have something to put in the collection basket when it's passed. How many phony preachers distribute money to the audiences they plan to fleece? It makes about as much sense as this ersatz musical does, which, like its cinematic source, is a compendium of formulaic characters and clichéd situations all too obviously cribbed from better and more original works. Bathed in composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater's generic score and driven to an artificial frenzy by Christopher Ashley's desperately meta direction and Sergio Trujillo's repetitive choreography, the show is busy, empty, and, worst of all, boring.
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: Like many contemporary musicals, Faith ultimately works best as a showcase for its talented cast. The excellent players also include Kecia Lewis-Evans, who as one of Jonas' Angels brings dynamism and dignity to the stock supporting role of big-voiced earth mama. As her grown son and daughter, Leslie Odom, Jr. and Krystal Joy Brown both prove supple singers and fluid dancers. Their contributions help lift Faith above its uneven aspects and become, if not a rapturous experience, a compelling curiosity.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: The stage musical improves on the original simply by settling on a point of view. But despite Raul Esparza’s hard-working lead performance and some rousing Gospel numbers from Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, the story remains stubbornly unappealing. Opening on Broadway the same week as the slavish screen-to-stage transplant of Ghost, the musical Leap of Faith earns points by at least rethinking its source for another medium, often in smart ways, too. Adapting her screenplay, Janus Cercone has collaborated with playwright Warren Leight (a Tony winner for Side Man, and showrunner on Law & Order: SVU) to clarify plot themes, redefining some characters while inventing or excising others. The resulting show has more heart than the movie, but still not enough.
David Cote, Time Out NY: Want to make a ton of money? Peddle God to fools. Want to lose a ton of money? Invest in a Broadway turkey. You can’t have it both ways. It’s perfectly fine—even desirable—if your religion is crude and nonsensical, but a show as bland and confused as Leap of Faith is not going to make rich men of its producers (among whom are actual church leaders). The fake cash distributed by actors to audience members—so we may place it in the offertory baskets at Jonas Nightingale’s revivalist hoedowns—is all the green this wanly tacky production is likely to see.
Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal: What "Leap of Faith" lacks are sweat and heart, the absence of which will be bothersome only if you permit yourself to imagine how this well-oiled applause machine might have run had its creators taken the plot seriously. Real emotions, raw and hurtful, are at stake in "Leap of Faith," and on occasion they bob to the surface, as in the scene in which a frumpy, desperately unhappy woman (well played by Dierdre Friel) drops her wedding ring in the collection basket. Adam Guettel or Michael John LaChiusa would have made the whole show as gripping as that one short scene. Not so the makers of "Leap of Faith," who are, like Mr. Esparza, content to skate glamorously atop the surface of their characters' feelings. If that's good enough for you, then you won't be sorry you came.
Steven Suskin, Variety: "Here's the beauty part," brays charismatic evangelist Jonas Nightingale in "Leap of Faith." "If they don't get their miracle, it's their fault; they didn't believe enough." That sentiment handily describes the long-in-gestation musical -- first produced at the Ahmanson in 2010 -- that a motley clutch of producers has ushered into the St. James with a new director, book-writer, choreographer and leading lady in tow. Raul Esparza sizzles like a firecracker in this musicalization of the 1992 Steve Martin pic, but his wick is continually dampened by the pesky book, songs and staging.
Linda Winer, Newsday: The crisis of faith in Kansas is awkwardly framed with a revival meeting on Broadway a year later. In these scenes, Esparza jokes with the audience. There are live TV monitors and characters in choir robes running up the aisle amid much lapping of elbows. It's one thing for the plot to be about desperate, seedy people. But the show shouldn't feel that way, too.
Howard Shapiro, The Philadelphia Inquirer: People who see maybe two or three new Broadway shows a year — which is to say normal people, not necessarily critics who get to see everything — will like “Leap of Faith” for its playful energy, and because the formula will not be so well-worn for them. They’ll admire its tunes by master songwriter Alan Menken (you always leave the theater humming his music), and its attractive and talented cast led by the superb Raúl Esparza as the preacher, Jonas Nightingale...“Leap of Faith” is about a phony who employs the cheap trick. If the show offers any real revelation, it’s that the playwriting does, too.
Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune: "Leap of Faith," which is believed to be on shaky fiscal footing on Broadway, is actually an interesting new American musical that, in its best moments, takes a look at a side of America that musicals usually fly right over. The title number (and several others) are quite complex Menken compositions — imagine the best of "Sister Act" suffused with a few notes and wails of the godless. And the show's main messenger delivers, with considerable flourish, the always-useful message that the more you think you know about life, the less the truth reveals itself.
Jonathan Mandell, The Faster Times: Does anybody believe that “Leap of Faith” is trying to convert all of us atheists and Jews in the audience? It’s an ersatz experience, emotionally and musically. Menken’s 17 appealing songs (Including three show-stoppers, “Step Into the Light,” “Are You on the Bus?” and “Leap of Faith”) are mostly good, ersatz gospel music. Sergio Trujillo’s choreography is mostly energetic swaying in gospel robes, which mimic the movements of an actual gospel choir. (The set, mostly a rotating revival tent, is as fake as the story.)...Should lovers of gospel music pay $100+ to see “Leap of Faith?” Why not? But they could have the authentic gospel experience at one of the many churches in New York City with gospel choirs. And if they are not comfortable going to church, they can attend one of the city’s many gospel brunches.
Scott Brown, Vulture (NY Mag): On its third director and its second book, the slightly road-worn Leap of Faith vaults over a chasm of skepticism—and stops precisely three quarters of the way across. It’s not a terrible show—Elmer Gantry-meets-The Music Man is certainly a winning stage-musical conceit—but it's a persistently confused one, in tone, content, and mood. Ostensibly a straightforward inspirational dramedy (sporting a straightforward set of smoothly toothsome Alan Menken tunes, sprightly recyclings of his trademark pop yearnings and gospel pastiche), the show aims to be hiply clued-in and folksily naïve all at once. The result is a sermon in song that’s rousing enough, but also instantly evanescent: Believers and unbelievers alike are welcomed (nay, bullied) to clap along, and they’ll leave baptized in freshets of energetically manipulative pop-Broadway melody, but the effect evaporates fast. Leap feels like the not-awful, not-wonderful product of a long series of compromises.
Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: Competently directed by Christopher Ashley with some lively choreography by Sergio Trujillo, the show occasionally grapples with an interesting question: Can a seriously flawed man still be a vessel for God's will, even for the miraculous? But while Esparza has a confident, commanding stage presence, he doesn't seem oily enough in his early scenes to make his second-act moment of reckoning pay off...The show does brush on a thin veneer of documentary-style exposé — we see how a sham healer gathers telling details about his congregation to exploit during his revival service — but otherwise the story never strays from its highly conventional path. And for Broadway veterans, that path should seem especially familiar. Leap of Faith is The Music Man meets 110 in the Shade, with an overly pat ending that undercut's the plot's refreshing ambivalence about the path to salvation.
Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg: Here we go again with oversize black singers belting their numbers to the rafters. (It’s particularly unfortunate that this character in “Leap” is named Ida Mae, while that character in “Ghost” is called Oda Mae). Ida, Oda, let’s call the whole thing off. [...] Christopher Ashley’s staging is serviceable, as are Sergio Trujillo’s dances. But there’s not a moment’s surprise in the show. Certainly not in the ending, which didn’t make a believer of me and won’t, I reckon, make one of you.
Joe Dziemianozicz, NY Daily News: Jeez, even the climactic thunderstorm is a letdown in “Leap of Faith.” You can see the water jets — where’s the fun in that? Sorry if that’s a spoiler, but nothing happens in this frustrating and manipulative new Broadway musical based on a 1992 Steve Martin movie you don’t see coming a mile away. What is surprising is how infrequently songs by Alan Menken (music) and Glenn Slater (lyrics) make you sit up and take notice.
Robert Feldberg, NorthJersey.com: Esparza is a dynamic musical-theater performer, but the allegedly charismatic Jonas remains unappealing from beginning to end. And by bringing in, and trivializing, the question of the power of faith, the show feels particularly smarmy. "Leap of Faith" attempts entertainment by manipulation, but you can see the wires all the way.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: The only surprise in this predictable, mushy new Broadway musical is how ridiculously fun it is. [...] This isn’t a Disney production, but it might as well be. If there’s a lesson in “Leap of Faith,” it’s that high-energy entertainment is the perfect sweetener: It makes everything go down, whether it’s a rascally preacher or a Broadway musical with a clunky book.