ON THE RECORD: Chaplin, Leap of Faith and Now. Here. This.

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06 Jan 2013

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The 2011-12 season ended with an equally ill-conceived musical mass of cliches, which also hailed from good old California. Leap of Faith [Ghostlight] took us into "Elmer Gantry" territory, although it seemed to be more like a new-era Music Man with all the corn and none of the craft. A spellbinding conman who comes to town and charms the local sadder-but-wiser girl (this time a sheriff instead of a librarian) and brings meaning to the life of her lovable-but-lonely son in a wheelchair (instead of a kid brother with a lisp).

Guess what happens? Or maybe you don't need to. Composer Alan Menken, who has had an up-and-down career on Broadway, gave us a score — with lyrics by Glenn Slater, his collaborator on The Little Mermaid and Sister Act — that ranked with Chaplin. Most happily, though, Menken simultaneously came to town with Newsies and finally won his first Tony Award.

Here we get a lot of revivalist-type, gospel-like songs that sound pretty much alike, mixed in with some musical comedy stuff. Raúl Esparza does what he can, but it's a thankless task. Jessica Phillips, Talon Ackerman and Leslie Odom, Jr. do well, too, but there's not much here for us to listen. The Leap of Faith CD is as difficult for listeners as the musical itself.

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