|Photo by Joan Marcus|
The gospel-flecked musical based on the 1992 film about a con-man preacher who has his spirit tested when he attempts to pull one over on a depressed Kansas town, played a brief Broadway run in 2012 at the St. James Theatre, lasting only 24 previews and 20 regular performances. The musical received a 2012 Tony Award nomination for Best Musical.
Despite a mixed reception from critics, Leap of Faith is a property perfectly suited to community organizations across the country, which may rely on recognizable titles that appeal to local audiences, as well as shows that can accommodate large casts. Music Theatre International, which licenses all of Menken's stage titles, handles live performance rights to Leap of Faith.
The Piedmont Players, a community theatre troupe located in Salisbury, NC, less than a hour's drive from Charlotte, NC, has also produced such musicals as Dreamgirls, Hairspray and The Color Purple.
Reid Leonard, the resident director of the Piedmont Players, told Playbill.com, "I loved the score. And the story. And the characters. We have also had real success with shows that had problematic New York productions, but seemed to [have] interesting scripts and scores. One of our biggest successes ever was Return to the Forbidden Planet. Another success was Seussical. The best part of doing these shows was that our productions were unique. No one could check out YouTube or the recent tour and copy things. Also, not many people have seen them, so we get to introduce a show to an audience."
The Piedmont Players season also includes The 39 Steps, The Count of Monte Cristo, A Thousand Cranes, Chicago, Disney's High School Musical and more.
Gospel and country punctuate the score by Academy and Tony Award winner Menken (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Newsies, Aladdin) and Slater (Love Never Dies). The libretto is by Tony Award winner Warren Leight (Side Man) and original screenwriter Janus Cercone.
A Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlight Records cast album preserves the score. It was released in December 2012.
"Leap of Faith is an ideal choice for community theatres and high schools looking for a show with a fantastic score, a moving and funny story, great roles for principals and ensemble members, and an inspiring message of self-discovery," MTI president Drew Cohen said in a statement when rights were initially release for the title. "We're thrilled to represent a show created by such a dynamic creative team and look forward to seeing how theatres around the world interpret this exciting new work and how audiences receive its life-affirming message."
According to the creators, "The musical tells the story of 'Reverend' Jonas Nightingale, an electrifying performer and rabble-rouser, who is travelling with his ministry. When his bus breaks down in the middle of a small Kansas town, Jonas plans an impromptu revival to take the entire town for a ride. The some-time reverend pitches a tent and invites the townspeople to his revival; however, the sheriff, a woman named Marla McGowan, is determined to stop Jonas from taking the people's money. Jonas is torn between greed and love when he becomes romantically involved with the sheriff. Her love forces the cynical Reverend to come to terms with his faith and his life."
The original Broadway cast featured Raúl Esparza as Jonas Nightingale, 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.