Theater Review: 'Leap of Faith' -- 2 stars
Leap of Faith
There's a moment in "Peter Pan" where the Peter comes forward and asks the audience whether they believe in fairies.
On the other hand, there's a moment in the new musical "Leap of Faith" when a wheelchair-bound boy comes forward and asks the audience whether they believe in God. An incredibly awkward silence followed at my performance.
Based on the 1992 Steve Martin film, "Leap of Faith" feels like an unnecessary rehash of "110 in the Shade" or "The Music Man," which are also about a drifter who arrives in a small town, bears the scorn of an independent female, but eventually manages to win her over and save the day.
In this case, Jonas Nightingale (Raúl Esparza) is a fraudulent Christian faith healer who holds spectacle-driven tent revivals. He and his large choir unexpectedly visit a small town when their bus breaks down. But his ability to con people out of their money draws the wrath of the female sheriff (Jessica Phillips), whose paralyzed son thinks that Nightingale can heal him.
The musical is framed as a show-within-a-show, with the cast treating the audience as if they were attending one of Nightingale's revivalist meetings. The choir moves throughout the theater and tries to get everyone excited.
Composer Alan Menken, who now has three musicals running simultaneously, provides an adequate country-gospel score. And the story has plenty of heart. But "Leap of Faith" still comes off as derivative and painfully cheesy.
Esparza gives a characteristically intense performance, shifting from an initially easygoing and sarcastic mood to genuinely shaken up at the climax. Phillips, as the sheriff, manages to be both sexy and tender."
If you go: "Leap of Faith" plays an open run at the St. James Theatre. 246 W. 44th St., 212-239-6200, leapoffaithbroadway.com.