Sunday, May 13, 2012

Theater Review: Leap of Faith

Leap of Faith
Music by Alan Menken
Musical Supervision: Michael Kosarin
Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Book by Janus Cercone and Warren Leight
Choreography by Sergio Trujillo
Sets: Robin Wagner
Costumes: William Ivey Long
Sound: John Shivers
Lighting: Dan Holder
Directed by Christopher Ashley

In between when I saw this and when I was able to post the review, the show announced it was closing (today, May 13). I give it a quick through here so you will have some idea about it since it was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical, and if by some miracle it wins, there could be a tour of it.

Based on the movie starring Steve Martin, Leap of Faith is the story of conman Jonas Nightingale (Raul Esparza) who travels with his fake tent revival church managed by his sister, Sam (Kendra Kassebaum) and bookkeeper Ida Mae Sturdevant (Kecia Lewis-Evans), who heads the choir. When their bus breaks down in out-of-the-way Sweetwater, Jonus decides to  pop his tent (nicely designed by Wagner) and bilk the poor townfolks out of whatever money he can, especially when he intimates that that his revival services and prayer will bring much needed rain to the drought-ridden town. On to his schemes, however, is sheriff Marla McGowan (Jessica Phillips), who gives him two days to get out of town. Sam urges Jonas to use Marla's wheel-chair-bound son  Jake (Talon Ackerman) as the focus for his "healing" service since the boy really believes in miracles. Visiting, however, is Ida Mae's seminary-student son Isaiah (Leslie Odom, Jr. of TV Smash fame), who starts to, well preach to the choir, and prick at the consciences of his mother, his sister, Ornella (Krystal Joy Brown) and other members of the Angels of Mercy Choir about what they are doing. A romance between Jonas and Marla complicates things as well.

The choir, some 15 strong, sound good, and OK, I am a sucker for good old gospel-sounding music in a Broadway theater. Odom has a lovely voice and brings depth to his character, torn between loyalty to his family and a sense of right and wrong and his calling to genuine ministry for God. There are some nice questions about faith addressed. At one point, Marla bitterly scoffs at her need for God. "If God's plan was to take my husband and put my son in a wheelchair, then no thanks," she says. I'm not sure it ever is made clear that she isn't seeing that clearly, though. In fact, there isn't much of the good word in the revival services -- just emotionally packed conclusions to them.

If only Jonas really could perform miracles and heal this show... The book is weak and repetitive. The score is pretty boring. Not one of Meken's best. The production had the feel of not quite being ready, an indeed may have been rushed in its development to hit the Broadway stage in time for a Tony nomination (the one for best show is the only one it received). Trujillo's choreography was uninspired (no pun intended, and I have never seen church choirs move quite like that, even in churches where they get into their music). The vocal and acting skills needed for little Jake are more than young Ackerman has yet attained and most disappointing was Esparza himself who frankly seemed miscast. The engaging, fine voiced actor certainly has proven his Broadway chops in past endeavors, but here, he seemed out of place and without charisma.

The show goes to a better place today at the St. James Theatre.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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