Leap of Faith, the new Broadway musical that opened at the St. James Theatre April 26th, is a theatrical ode to romance and redemption. It not only serves up rousing songs, energetic singers and dancers, and a well-constructed storyline but it also raises eternal questions about doubt, faith, forgiveness and the existence of miracles.
Badly needing to refill dwindling coffers, Jonas Nightingale (Raul Esparza), a handsome, fast-talking, preacher cum con man on the run sets up a revival in a tiny Kansas town, which is suffering not only from an extended drought but also from grief, alcoholism, infidelity and financial woes. With the help of his sister Sam (Kendra Kassebaum), he plans to exploit the people’s vulnerabilities with sham healings and exhortations. Little does he know that God has other plans for him.
Almost immediately he meets a skeptical, hard-nosed female sheriff, Marla McGowan (Jessica Phillips) whose toughness is a cover for her grief over the loss of her husband and the crippling of her son in an auto accident three years earlier. The sheriff is wise to Jonas’ charlatan ways and wants to send him packing—and yet…there’s some spark that the sheriff isn’t entirely immune to.
Often in plays, the headliners perform head and shoulders above most other cast members (Think Audra McDonald in Porgy and Bess). Not taking an iota away from Mr. Esparza, whose performance is riveting, the supporting cast is extraordinarily gifted , from Misses Phillips and Kassebaum to Kecia Lewis-Evans (Ida Mae), who plays the group’s bookkeeper and leader of the Angels of Mercy choir, to Krystal Joy Brown, who plays her daughter Ornella, to young Talon Ackerman (Marla’s son Jake), whose acting and voice belie his years.
I won’t give away the show’s climax, but whether you’re a theatre lover or a person who grapples with religious questions—or both—Mr. Esparza’s soul-searching “Soliloquy” will grab your heart and not let go.
So in keeping with the spirit of the show, let me stand tall and testify that—from the highly enthusiastic opening number “Rise Up” to the finale—I was transported, uplifted and inspired. You will be too. All you gotta do is take a Leap of Faith.
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