Leap of Faith, With Raúl Esparza at the Musical Pulpit, Opens on Broadway

News   Leap of Faith, With Raúl Esparza at the Musical Pulpit, Opens on Broadway
Leap of Faith, the new Broadway musical about a con-man preacher who blows into a depressed, drought-plagued Kansas town, where he spars with a lady sheriff, opens April 26 at the St. James Theatre following previews from April 3. Gospel and country punctuate the score by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater.

Ra Photo by Joan Marcus

Four-time Tony Award nominee Raúl Esparza plays Jonas Nightingale, a role created by Steve Martin in the 1992 source movie of the same name. The musical shares a Broadway opening date with the farce Don't Dress for Dinner. They open on the final day of 2011-12 eligibility for the Tony Awards.

Since a 2010 tryout in Los Angeles, the Leap of Faith libretto by Janus Cercone (screenwriter of the film) has been revised by Pulitzer Prize finalist and Tony winner Warren Leight (Side Man). Among other things, the character of Jonas' potential love interest, Marla McGowan, has been reshaped as the county sheriff (played by Jessica Phillips of Priscilla Queen of the Desert).

When his traveling ministry breaks down in a small Kansas town, preacher and con artist Jonas Nightingale (Esparza) pitches a tent and invites the locals to a revival, to take their money over a three-day period. The town sheriff, Marla McGowan (Phillips), is determined to stop him. The show is told in flashback, with Nightingale center-stage at a New York City revival meeting held at the St. James. Video cameras capture the audience before the show; confessional monologues pop up throughout the musical, with characters coming downstage on a runway that projects into the seats; walkways have been built into the sides of the auditorium to allow characters to walk from the stage to the boxes and into the balcony.

The principal cast features Kendra Kassebaum as Jonas' sister and partner in crime, Sam Nightingale; Kecia Lewis-Evans as bookkeeper Ida Mae Sturdevant, one of Jonas' followers; Leslie Odom, Jr. (TV's "Smash") as student-clergyman Isaiah Sturdevant, Ida Mae's son; Krystal Joy Brown as his sister Ornella Sturdevant; and Talon Ackerman as Marla's disabled and hopeful son Jake McGowan.

Read more about the career of Raúl Esparza, of Broadway's Taboo, Company, The Homecoming, Arcadia and more, in the Playbill Vault.  The company includes Hettie Barnhill, Kyle Brenn, Ta’Rea Campbell, Michelle Duffy, Lynorris Evans, Manoly Farrell, Dierdre Friel, Bob Gaynor, Lucia Giannetta, Angela Grovey, Louis Hobson, Tiffany Janene Howard, Grasan Kingsberry, Fletcher McTaggart, Maurice Murphy, Ian Paget, Terita Redd, Eliseo Román, Bryce Ryness, Ann Sanders, C.E. Smith, Danny Stiles, Dennis Stowe, Betsy Struxness, Roberta Wall and Virginia Ann Woodruff.

Jessica Phillips and Raúl Esparza
photo by Joan Marcus

Directed by Tony Award nominee Christopher Ashley, Leap of Faith has music by Academy and Grammy Award winner Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater (Sister Act, The Little Mermaid). With the launch of Leap of Faith, composer Menken now has three shows currently running on Broadway (including Sister Act and Newsies). Read more about the musicals of Alan Menken in the Playbill Vault

Menken told Playbill.com that his score is flavored with the sounds of gospel, country and American roots music. He explained, "There are some songs that are very heartfelt that, I would say, are in more of a Broadway idiom, for lack of a better word: Basically, songs that come from the part of the soul that doesn't speak, necessarily, in a specific style but speaks in the appropriate musical vocabulary that will complement the rest of the score. That tends to be kind of a gut level thing, and you just can feel when it's gonna be appropriate to the character without necessarily defining what the style of it is."

Read the spring Playbill magazine feature about Menken.

Sergio Trujillo (The Addams Family, Jersey Boys and Memphis) is the choreographer.

The creative team includes scenic designer Robin Wagner, costume designer William Ivey Long, lighting designer Don Holder, sound designer John Shivers, wigs and hair designer Paul Huntley, make up designer Angelina Avallone, orchestrators Michael Starobin and Joseph Joubert, music supervisor and vocal/incidental music arranger Michael Kosarin, dance music arranger Zane Mark, and music director Brent-Alan Huffman.

Leap of Faith is produced on Broadway by Michael Manheim; James D. Stern; Douglas L. Meyer; Marc Routh; Richard Frankel; Tom Viertel; Steven Baruch; Annette Niemtzow; Daryl Roth; Robert G. Bartner; Patricia Monaco; Steven and Shanna Silva; Debi Coleman; Dancap Productions, Inc.; Steve Kaplan, Relativity Media, LLC; Rich Entertainment/JDC Investments; Center Theatre Group; Jujamcyn Theaters in association with Michael Palitz; Melissa Pinsly/Celine Rosenthal; Independent Presenters Network; Christina Papagjika; Broadway Across America; Diana Buckhantz; Pamela Cooper; Endgame Entertainment; Vera Guerin; Leading Investment Co., Ltd; Richard J. Stern; Victor Syrmis; Semlitz/Glaser Productions; associate producer Rebecca Falcon.

Read Playbill's recent feature about a spate of Broadway musicals addressing faith, God and charismatic religious leaders.

Leap of Faith tickets are available through telecharge.com, (212) 239-6200. Ticket prices range from $47-$137.

Visit leapoffaithbroadway.com.

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