I have a confession. I’ve committed a cardinal sin – I once fell asleep during a Broadway musical.* And having participated in a theater critic program in high school, I’ve seen my fair share of off-key leads, lethargic choreography, awkward staging. I have no patience for anything less than a near-perfect performance, and I know a bad show when I see one. So when I came out of St. James Theatre after having watched the recently opened Leap of Faith, I knew one thing for a fact – it was most certainly not a bad show. If I had ten words to say about Alan Menken’s new project, they would be the following: Bombast; Gospel; Raúl Esparza; Leather pants; and Go. See. It. Now. With a church choir full of powerful, resounding voices and a leading man brimming with charisma and devious charm, St. James Theatre’s newest musical is most certainly worth taking the leap.
The latest in line about Broadway’s trending topic of religion (following Sister Act, the Book of Mormon, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Godspell), Leap of Faith weaves the redemptive tale of a conman “reverend” leading a biker gang of a choir, exploiting towns and hearts in their wake. When their bus breaks down in a drought-ridden town in Kansas, the team must pull off a final heist, but naturally, love gets in the way. A revival of a 1992 film starring Steve Martin, the musical stars the ever versatile Raúl Esparza as the heart-achingly charming Jonas Armstrong and Marva McGowan as his strong, stubborn love interest.
The energetic, bombastic cast lit up the stage from the get-go as the choir churned out one strong song after another. In each large number, the pace of the dancing and the harmonies of the voices were electric with fancy footwork and vibrating tones.
From his first scene, lead Raúl Esparza captivated. In every way the star of the show, he exuded both the swaggering confidence and the fragility of his nuanced character. Seductive, he lured the audience in and dazzled with his devious persona. The leather pants didn’t hurt, either.
His leggy counterpart, Marla, was adeptly played by McGowan. Her melodic, country-esque vocals and steadiness was refreshing and delightful and the chemistry between the leads was palpable. Kecia Lewis-Evans, Leslie Odom, Jr., and Krystal Joy Brown stunned as the Sturdevant family, and each had a show-stopping, jaw-dropping voice. Lewis-Evans especially, the trio had the sass and the vibratos to back it up, shown off beautifully in the confrontational song “Dancin’ in the Devil’s Shoes.”
With Menken’s endlessly jubilant score, Rob Ashford’s rapid choreography, and a dynamic, alluring cast of characters, Leap of Faith was the most fun I’ve had on Broadway in a long time. While the ending was a little jarring, the music hinted with rock n’ roll, gospel, and country was enough to keep me mesmerized (and fully awake) the whole way through.
And did I mention Raúl Esparza’s leather pants?
*it was West Side Story
Tickets and showtimes here