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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
LEAP OF FAITH
at St. James Theatre

PLASTIC CROSS
By PETER FILICHIA

  Raúl Esparza/ Ph: Joan Marcus

Too bad that they weren’t able to get the Mark Hellinger Theatre for this one. Leap of Faith is actually set in a Broadway theater, which preacher Jonas Nightingale has rented for a revival meeting. Using the Hellinger – now, alas, The Times Square Church – would have been a nice compromise between theater and religion.
 
But the church never would have allowed it. After all, Jonas isn’t a genuine man of God, but a con man. Now he’s stuck with a broken truck in Sweetwater, Kansas. Jonas tells his entourage to “Rise Up!” and he soon has them doing just that in song. Given that he’s a phony and they know it, why are they all singing “Rise Up!” when they really should wise up?
 
“All we need is one score,” Jonas says. So does Leap of Faith. Alan Menken’s music is his least arresting, with perfunctory gospel numbers, although Glenn Slater’s lyrics have an occasional turn of phrase.
 
Bookwriters Janus Cercone and Warren Leight weren’t wise to include the plot point that the town’s experiencing a drought. “I can make the rain appear,” Jonas sings. Don’t the writers know about 110 in the Shade, or at least The Rainmaker?
 
As Jonas, Raúl Esparza works hard. What may have cost him a Tony nomination (only the musical itself got one) was his holding a puffy-headed microphone in front of his mouth for much of the show. His half-obscured face keeps us from fully connecting with him.
 
Jonas sees Sweetwater as “a convenience store,” but Marla, Sweetwater’s sheriff, turns out to be quite an inconvenience. “A fox like you don’t fool a chick like me,” she snarls, before later adding, “You’re like an open book that I put down by chapter two.”
 
But someone staunchly believes in Jonas: Jake, Marla’s son who has been in a wheelchair since an automobile accident injured him and killed his father. A more convincing scenario would have a kid who has been so damaged from the accident that he doesn’t remotely believe in anything, let alone in Jonas. But the story needs a believer, and Jake is the one. He calls his mother “a godless heathen.”
 
Well, is there any doubt that Jonas and Marla will become lovers, that Jake is going to walk, or that after three days of no rain there will be a downpour just before the final curtain?
 
Leap of Faith wants its audience involved with the show. At one point, it encourages everyone to raise his arms, at another to clap in rhythm – and to fill collection baskets.
 
But the audience at the St. James most came together at a point after the book writers spruced up one of the oldest jokes in the world, when Jonas’ confederates have this conversation:
 
Q: How much did we make?
A: $216.05.
Q: Who gave the nickel?
 
And along with the character answering the question, the crowd as one muttered, “Everybody.”

 


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