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'Leap of Faith' at the Ahmanson: What did the critics think?

October 6, 2010 | 10:50 am

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Does "Leap of Faith" have more than a hope and a prayer of transferring to Broadway? Judging by the critical reaction so far, producers are going to have to do some retooling if they're serious about making the leap to New York.

The new musical had its world premiere at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles this week. Based on the 1992 film starring Steve Martin, the show has no lack of box-office brand-name appeal: Broadway leading man Raúl Esparza, actress Brooke Shields and a gospel-inspired score by multiple Oscar-winner Alan Menken.

"Leap of Faith" has had a long road to fruition, with various workshops and creative teams passing through the revolving doors. At one point, filmmaker Taylor Hackford was set to direct the musical but he subsequently left the project.

Since the show was announced for the Ahmanson, there has  been talk of a Broadway transfer but no formal announcements have been made. On Wednesday, New York Post gossip columnist Michael Riedel reported that there are whispers of replacing Shields with Kelli O'Hara for a Broadway run.

How have critics responded to "Leap of Faith"? It's safe to say that the noise they have been making has been less than joyful.

Charles McNulty of the L.A. Times praised Esparza in the role of a fraudulent preacher, writing that the actor's energy "is as fierce as his talent." But overall, "the score is derivative, the dancing often seems like ballet school parody... and the closing moments are pure sentimental hokum."

Paul Hodgins of the Orange County Register wrote that the creative team behind "Leap of Faith" can't "shake the feeling of familiarity and predictability that plagues every scene." Esparza "can deliver a soul-baring song like few other Broadway performers," but Shields, in the role of a small-town waitress, "doesn't deliver the punch this character needs."

Jay Reiner of the Hollywood Reporter wrote that "there's a strong sense of deja vu hovering over the production," adding that Shields "looks out of place in Sweetwater, and her bland singing and modest acting style lack... bite and depth."

Bob Verini of Variety had nicer things to say about Shields, praising the "no-nonsense normality" of her performance as a counterbalance to Esparza's "fireworks." But the overall feel of the musical suggests "multiple hands laboring at rushed changes."

-- David Ng

Photo: Esparza and Shields in a scene from "Leap of Faith." Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

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