Leap of Faith (Original Broadway Cast Recording) Proves This Flop Still Has Lots of Life
Last season's biggest Broadway musical flop was Leap of Faith, a musical adaption of the barely remembered 1992 film starring Steve Martin. The musical featured a Book by Janus Cercone (1992 film Leap of Faith) and Warren Leight (Side Man, winner of the 1999 Tony Award for Best Play), with Music by Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Sister Act, Newsies) and Lyrics by Glenn Slater (Tangled, Sister Act, The Little Mermaid). It also starred Broadway veteran Raúl Esparza (The Rocky Horror Show revival, Company revival) as the male lead, Jonas Nightingale. With the assembled talents, the musical seemed poised for success. The revival of On A Clear Day You Can See Forever shuttered ahead of schedule, freeing up the St. James Theatre. The producers of Leap of Faith pushed their own show's opening ahead by months to ensure they didn't loose their hold on the coveted real estate. The word of mouth from preview audiences was toxic. Published reviews after opening night were notoriously bad. Surprising everyone, the show grabbed a Tony Nomination for Best Musical. Then, a short 12 days later, on May 13, 2012, the musical played its final Broadway performance.
Courtesy of Ghostlight Records. Cover art for Leap of Faith (Original Broadway Cast Recording).
Even with the Broadway failure, the creative team wasn't done with Leap of Faith. On May 17, 2012, Alan Menken tweeted that the musical would be receiving an Original Broadway Cast Album. My wife and I had just had our ticket purchase for the show refunded, and as an Alan Menken fan I was pretty glum about the whole thing. This announcement slightly restored my faith. Obviously, I felt this illustrated that there was something in this musical worth preserving. The album's December 2012 release passed me by completely. When I recently was sent a copy of the album to review, I couldn't help but pop the disc into my stereo with joy.
During the preview process, it was noted that several songs in the show were trimmed and tightened up. As I listen to the album I have no live performances to compare them to, but I find that even the longer tracks like "Rise Up," "Step Into the Light," and "Are You On the Bus?" play well at home. Menken's scoring for the musical relies heavily on the small town charm of gospel, country, and folk Americana traditions. In pulling from these genres, I can understand how the music may sound somewhat one-note compared to some of his more recognizably dynamic scores. However, I can't help but be gleefully entertained by each of Menken's delightfully toe-tapping songs that also capture the glory of the modern rural American experience. Truthfully, almost every melody on the disc is charmingly infectious and fun.
Starring as the conman that has a change of heart Jonas Nightingale, Esparza got devastatingly negative reviews from a majority the critics who saw the show. Ben Brantley of the New York Times said his "robotic" and self-conscious performance maintained a "chilly distance from his character" and that "doubt emanate[d] from his every pore." The cast album was recorded on June 13, 2012, a full month after the production closed on Broadway. Listening to the disc, the audience will find that in regards to the recording that there is simply no truth in Brantley's words. On the album, Esparza fills his numbers with charismatic personality and tangible emotionality. His skilled and catchy vocals are one of the album's strongest assets. His performances are full of life, making "Step Into the Light," "I Can Read You," "King of Sin," "Last Chance Salvation," and "Jonas's Soliloquy" both memorable and highly enjoyable.
Likewise, Esparza gets wonderful backing from the supporting cast and the ensemble throughout the recording. Jessica Phillips (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical) brings an affable Miss Mona Stangley-like mother hen allure to her portrayal of local County Sherriff Marla McGowan. Her vocals are pleasing on "Fox in the Henhouse," "I Can Read You," and "Long Past Dreaming." As Sam Nightingale, Kendra Kassebaum's voice shines on "People Like Us." Kecia Lewis-Evans' (Shrek the Musical, The Drowsy Chaperone) Ida Mae Sturdevant, Leslie Odom, Jr.'s (NBC's SMASH) Isaiah Studevant, and Krystal Joy Brown's Ornella Sturdevant bring mesmerizing gospel potency to the album on numbers like "Rise Up," "Step Into the Light," "Dancing in the Devil's Shoes," "King of Sin," "Are You On the Bus?," and "Leap of Faith." Lastly, the remainder of the cast brings earnest emotions and graceful vocals to the album as well.
Brent-Alan Huffman conducts the lively orchestra with enthusiasm, capturing the uplifting and inspiriting roots of the music while emphasizing the moments that encapsulate the showy Broadway sentimentality of the American musical. His work is one of the reasons the album is so lively and enchanting. Furthermore, the orchestra capably plays Menken's score with skillful agility.
There are several theories as to why the show suffered a quick demise. It seems that the most notable hindrance was its rush to open on Broadway, which made the creative team rush through rewrites. The general consensus seems to indicate that the Broadway incarnation of the musical favored glitzy production numbers over a relatable and powerful plot. Regardless, Leap of Faith (Original Broadway Cast Recording) showcases that the score to the musical is both engaging and stirring. Moreover, it was recorded to prove that there was still life in the musical, which it successfully achieved earlier this month when The Piedmont Players in Salisbury, North Carolina announced that they would be producing the musical's first post-Broadway production.
Ghostlight Records released Leap of Faith (Original Broadway Cast Recording) digitally on December 4, 2012 and physically on December 18, 2012. The album can be purchased from Ghostlight Records, iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold.