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Time Out Theater Review: "Leap Of Faith"

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From film to stage, the 1992 movie "Leap of Faith" is now a Broadway musical. Time Out New York contributing critic David Cote filed the following review.

Broadway loves a huckster. From Harold Hill to Max Bialystock, showbiz crooks and cons have made a killing on the Great White Way. With "Leap of Faith", a glitzy musical based on the 1992 Steve Martin film, we have a new flimflam man-traveling evangelical fraud Jonas Nightingale. Will he make us see the light?

Based on the 1992 movie starring Steve Martin, "Leap of Faith" has many elements to attract the musical theater adapter: A charismatic antihero with showbiz in his veins, good-hearted locals, roof-raising production numbers, a bit of romance and a sweet, disabled teen who believes. But this version - with tunes by the "Sister Act" team of Alan Menken and Glenn Slater and a book co-written by Warren Leight - never finds the right proportion of gritty cynicism to wide-eyed spiritual wonder, foundering in a series of interchangeable song-and-dance numbers, tin-eared dialogue and a generic gospel-country score that quickly evaporates from memory.

Most problematic is the half-formed concept of framing the show as a triumphant prayer service in New York City, during which Jonas, played by the hard-working Raúl Esparza, tells the story of how he lost and found the Lord while stuck in Sweetwater, Kansas. The device invites obtrusive direct-address speeches and kills narrative momentum.

Esparza is a fiendishly talented performer, but neither he nor the creative team has figured out who Jonas is. Instead of genial, aw-shucks hucksterism, Esparza oozes low-grade sleaze and ennui. He’s too obviously fake and contemptuous to be convincing as a traveling evangelical.

It wouldn’t take a miracle to heal the ersatz and unfocused "Leap of Faith", but it would take a hell of a lot of rewriting and recasting.

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