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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Leap of Faith
If your faith is strong enough —Jonas & the Angels of Mercy
It's a feel-good musical, no doubt about it. Leap of Faith at the Ahmanson with a blazing cast delivers. Based on the Steve Martin movie, it adds the writing talents of Janus Cercone (book) to the musicianship of composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater to come up with a shrewd, smart and roof-raising production under the quick-paced baton of Rob Ashford.
Brooke Shields and Raúl Esparza
(Photo by Craig Schwartz)
Though undated in the program, it feels like the 1930s when a traveling tent church on its uppers staggers into a small Kansas town. Jonas Nightingale (Raul Esparza), a self-proclaimed preacher with dynamism and charisma to spare, persuades them to pitch their tent and put on a show. He meets Marva (Brooke Shields), a beautiful small-town waitress, and her crippled son Boyd (Nicholas Barasch). Sheriff Will Braverman (Jarrod Emick) attempts to shut the show down and it ends with the finale you've been waiting for and the kind of kiss you'd expect from Jonas.
Esparza holds the audience in the palm of his hand as he delivers the kind of hell-raising sermon from which you don't dare look away. You see him at the back of the stage changing jackets, wiping his face. The ovation at the end after "Jonas' Soliloquy" is as much amazement as approval. As Marva, beautiful Brooke Shields surprises with a pretty voice and an ability to hold her own against the dynamic Esparza.
Young Nicholas Barasch as Boyd is amazing. His voice shows no sign of breaking and his acting chops portend a bright future. Equally amazing is Kecia Lewis-Evans as Ida Mae Sturdevant, whose booming voice opens the show. As big as she is beautiful, Lewis-Evans mesmerizes by the quality of her voice. She plays the devoted mother of Ricky Sturdevant (Leslie Odom, Jr.) and this young man has an outstanding talent. Not only a beautiful and very unusual singing voice, Odom is also a captivating dancer who whirls and pivots in intricate dance arrangements by Rob Ashford.
Kendra Kassebaum, of Wicked fame, plays Jonas's sister Sam with determined passion and Jarrod Emich, as the Sheriff, holds the stage in his clashes with Jonas. As Ornella, petite Krystal Joy Brown has the thankless role of a man-chaser with Jonas as her object until the last act when she's allowed to open her lips and sing, which she does with fire and a surprisingly large voice.
The set by Robin Wagner is a relatively spare Kansas backdrop with a few props for the Diner and a neon Cross for the tent. William Ivey Long gets credit for the small town clothes; his only chance for glory is the blue-spangled Choir robes and Jonas' glittering jackets. The cast is breathtakingly large with the dancers dressed as towns folk and the singers as the Choir.
Alan Menken's music is memorable but the real stand-out, and Esparza does it proud, is the book by Cercone and Slater. Small-town fears and con show techniques blend in a shrewd compassionate mix. For a finale the rain comes to sunbaked Kansas, like the fireworks in The Marriage of Figaro , to bring down the curtain in a driving storm. The entire cast capers in it like children.
Leap of Faith|
Music: Alan Menken
Book: Janus Cercone
Lyrics/Book: Glenn Slater
Direction and Choreography: Rob Ashford
Cast: Jonas Nightingale (Raul Esparza), Marva McGowan (Brooke Shields), Boyd McGowan (Nicholas Barasch), Sheriff Will Braverman (Jarrod Emick), Ida Mae Sturdevant (Kecia Lewis-Evans), Ricky Sturdevant (Leslie Odom, Jr.), Ornella (Krystal Joy Brown), Mugs (Harvey Evans), Deputy Wayne Storm (Charlie Williams), Emma Schlarp (Michelle Duffy), Sam
(Kendra Kassebaum), Dude (Bryce Ryness), Amos (Brandon Wardell), Titus (C.E. Smith), Caesar (Dennis Stowe), Jake (Michael X. Martin), Tom (Brad Anderson), Fred (Bob Gaynor), Rita (Darcie Roberts), Susie Raylove (Shannon Lewis), Robert Raylove (Alex Michael Stoll).
Residents of Sweetwater: Brad Anderson, Bradley Benjamin, Tom Berklund, Harvey Evans, Ashley Blair Fitzgerald, Bob Gaynor, Shannon Lewis, Michael X. Martin, Darcie Roberts, Ariel Shepley, Alex Michael Stoll, Natalie Willes, Charlie Williams.
The Angels of Mercy: Krystal Joy Brown, Ta'rea Campbell, Eric L. Christian, Michelle Duffy, Angela Grovey, Maurice Murphy, Anise E. Ritchie, Bruce Ryness, C.E. Smith, Dennis Stowe, Katherine Tokarz, Brandon Wardell.
Scenic Design: Robin Wagner
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Sound Design: John Shivers
Music Direction: Brent-Alan Huffman
Music Supervision: Michael Kosarin
Production Stage Manager: Steven Zweigbaum
Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes, no intermission
Running Dates: October 3-24, 2010
Where: Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angles. Reservations: 213-972-7231.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on October 3.
Rise Up/Ida Mae, Jonas and The Angels of Mercy
Do Whatcha Gotta Do/Marva
I Can Read You/Jonas and Marva
I Can Read You (Reprise)/Sam and Jonas
Fields of the Lord/Ida Mae, Ricky and The Angels of Mercy
Step into the Light/Jonas, Ida Mae, Ricky and The Angels
- The Gospel According To Me/Sheriff
Let It Loose/Ida Mae, Ricky and The Angels
- Walk Into The Sunset/Boyd and Jonas
- Long Past Dreamin/Marva
- Hotline to Heaven/Ricky, Ida Mae, Jonas and The Angels
- King of Sin/Jonas
Rise Up/Jake, Rita, Ricky, Boyd, Townsfolk and Angels
You Can't Get There From Here/How Did You Let This Happen?
/Marva and Jonas
- Are You On The Bus?/Ornella, Sam, Ida Mae, Ricky, Jonas, Angels
- Walk Into The Sunset/Boyd
People Like Us/Sam and Marva
- Last Chance Salvation/Jonas and The Angels
- If Your Faith Is Strong Enough/Jonas, Boyd and The Angels
- Jonas' Soliloquy/Jonas
- Leap of Faith/Company
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