Raul Esparza plays a con man-preacher trying to dupe a small Kansas town. (Associated Press/Boneau/Bryan-Brown,…)
The musical "Leap of Faith," which had its world premiere at the Ahmanson Theatre in 2010, opened on Broadway Thursday night at New York's St. James Theater. The play is based on the 1992 film starring Steve Martin about a con man-preacher preying on a cash-strapped Kansas town. The con man eventually sees the light, thanks to the love of a good woman.
The Los Angeles production, with Brooke Shields and Raúl Esparza as the leads, was "erratic and somewhat overeager," Times theater critic Charles McNulty wrote. Though he judged the score "derivative," he did not consider the musical without promise. “It’s easy to see why the creators have persisted for so long with this project: There’s something uniquely compelling in the source material,” he wrote.
The show has since been overhauled for Broadway, and Shields has been replaced by Jessica Phillips as a sheriff (not a waitress, like the film and Los Angeles production) raising her handicapped son. The creative team includes Oscar and Grammy winner Alan Menken, who composed the score with frequent lyricist Glenn Slater.
The first reviews from New York are in, and the musical has not made critics into believers.
Ben Brantley of the New York Times wrote the show "is this season’s black hole of musical comedy, sucking the energy out of anyone who gets near it." He added that the "the force isn’t with" the "unfortunate cast" and while the production "has a fair amount of leaping," the "faith part is another matter."
Howard Shapiro of the Philadelphia Inquirer called "Faith" "a formulaic musical right down to the easy-to-see love affair that will develop between the preacher man and the no-nonsense woman" and the musical concludes with an "unrealistic ooey-gooey ending." Shapiro praised the "talented cast led by the superb Raúl Esparza."
Entertainment Weekly's Thom Geier wrote that Broadway producers "apparently having exhausted all the hit films that could be adapted into stage musicals" have "now taken to raiding the studio vaults for clunkers." He added, "the story never strays from its highly conventional path" and bemoaned the "pat ending that undercut's the plot's refreshing ambivalence about the path to salvation."
Joe Dziemianowicz, of the New York Daily News, wrote that "nothing happens in this frustrating and manipulative" musical that you "don’t see coming a mile away." He added that Menken and Slater's "rousing, albeit repetitive" gospel numbers "make you sit up and take notice."
Theater review: 'Leap of Faith' at the Ahmanson Theatre
'Clybourne Park' on Broadway: What did critics think?
'Newsies' on Broadway: What did the critics think?