*published on May 4, 2012 in The EDGE
There is currently a religious revival taking place on Broadway, with “Book of Mormon,” “Sister Act,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and now “Leap of Faith” at the aptly named St. James Theatre. Perhaps it is the liberal, artsy East Coast answer to the rise of the religious right or just a strange coincidence, but religion is everywhere and it doesn’t always make for a rollicking musical.
Case in point is “Leap of Faith.” My first confusion is why lead actor Raul Esparza’s name is above the title as if he were Sting, or Cuba Gooding, Jr.? Esparza is no great performer and the role of the Reverend Jonas Nightingale, a fire and brimstone-breathing, money-grabbing evangelical preacher, requires a star turn if this lackluster musical is ever to find a miracle.
That said, the producers spared no expense in transforming the Saint James into a revival tent with ramps and scaffolding, giant video screens, and a withering diorama of a corn field, all well wrought by veteran designer Robin Wagner.
The costumes by stage giant William Ivy Long are also alternately flashy for the revival staff and dowdy for the townies. But just because you get the visuals right doesn’t mean the book and music fall into place.
The less than wonderful music is by the prolific Alan Menken, with ho-hum lyrics by Glenn Slater. You will not leave humming anything other than “taxi please” in your haste to get home to watch a rerun of “Smash” on TV to get the taste out of your mouth. Menken also wrote “Smash” and even that show’s saccharine plot seems edgy by comparison to “Leap of Faith.”