Photo by Don Kellogg

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Leap of Faith

In opening this review, I take note that I cannot find a show banner icon that does not have Raul Esparza's name atop the title.  Clearly the producers are hanging their hats (and everything else) on the draw that this popular, charismatic Broadway star has to offer.   However, a show needs more than a star.  It needs a book that is not a boring as watching a movie rerun on a Saturday night.  It needs more than a few wave-your-hands-in-the-air gospel inspired numbers and it most certainly needs that star to be someone you believe.   Unfortunately, the aforementioned are all omnipresent in this circus-feel sideshow.   

While Mr. Esparza does an admirable job as a leading man, I just never believed he was who he purported to be.  His vocals were all capable, his acting was acceptable, but is he really a traveling, proselytizing con-artist? Nah.  The show ambles along - raising the tent, taking advantage of the town and the audience alike - with the revival theme causing the actors to break the 4th wall as if we, too, are there for the word of the lord.  Eh.  While there are moments of glory (e.g. Robin Wagner's tent is superb), they are few and far between.  Leslie Odom, Jr. creates a believable yet expected foil, Isaiah Sturdevant, to Mr. Esparza's Jonas Nightengale but it all seemed so obvious.  Kendra Kassebaum plays the down-trodden younger sister with aplomb yet the entire routine seemed so been there, done that.  Replacing Brooke Shields (she originated the role of Marla McGowan in the LA premiere production in 2010) with Jessica Phillips didn't seem to be much of an improvement - but neither was it a detriment.  

Perhaps it's just the fact, as Ben Brantley pointed out in his own review, that we've seen the last entrant in the Broadway season and we're just exhausted.  And this roadside carnival did nothing to refresh and enliven us one bit - even with that fabulous silver jacket Mr. Odom eventually dons and some much needed rain on the stage.