Religion may be the "opiate of the masses," as Karl Marx once observed, but faith — a much greater force — is a healer of souls. If the difference between the two seems indistinguishable, taking in a Broadway show these days may help sort it out.
When preacher/con-man Jonas Nightingale pitched his revival-meeting tent at the St. James Theatre on April 3, Leap of Faith became the fifth current Broadway musical to employ and explore the world of religion, faith and personal spirituality. (Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, Sister Act and The Book of Mormonare the others.) Irreverent Reverend Nightingale (played by Raúl Esparza) joins a list of men and women whose dynamic, larger-than-life personalities, to quote Sister Act's Deloris, really "get the rafters ringing."
The magnetism of these characters — and the conflicts they face — create an exhilarating bond between the audience and the world on stage.
Actress Carolee Carmello has a history with charismatic religious characters that touch audiences uniquely. She stars as Mother Superior in Sister Act and has spent several years attached to the musical Saving Aimee (the story of evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson). She says: "Both Aimee and Mother Superior are powerful women who also have limitations. It's those complexities that are attractive to me. Aimee was a trailblazer who frightened some of her contemporaries with her radical ideas. Mother Superior is desperately trying to maintain her world-view while the world changes around her. But both are leaders and incredibly strong women."
Sister Act and Leap of Faith lyricist Glenn Slater says, "We wanted both shows to be a dialogue with the audience about faith. …Anytime two people come face to face in these shows, sparks fly and their different world-views start generating friction. …I hope people leave Leap of Faith arguing about what they've seen, and may even be surprised by how it affects them."