Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Flint Community Players winds up their 89th season with this week’s opening of a musical comedy with a message, Leap of Faith. Based on the 1992 film of the same name, this musical stage version takes an in-depth if slightly disturbing look at the old-fashioned tent revivals. Augmented by song and dance, Alan Menken’s music and Glenn Slater’s lyrics provide some rousing gospel songs as well as a few lovely ballads.
With another play originally scheduled for this spot, Leap of Faith was a last minute replacement. It’s a thought-provoking show with a complicated and interesting cast made up of newcomers and veterans sprinkled liberally about in roles big and small. Still, be aware that, for some, it might be disquieting.
Although used to performing their phony faith-healing revivals in major cities, where large donations flow freely, bogus Christian evangelist Jonas Nightingale (Jason Briggs) and his “choir” find themselves stuck in remote Sweetwater, Kansas. With their fancy Mercedes bus broken down, the troupe decides to stay, take these locals for all they can, fix the bus and scram!
Briggs introduces the action and cast with the enthusiastic mood lifter, “Rise Up!” and is joined with gusto by the choir director Ida Mae (Rolecia Looney) and his sister, Sam (Ava Pietras). Still, we immediately get a strong sense that there is tension in these ranks.
Marla McGowan (Marie Van Horn) arrives to admire the tent and schmooze a bit with Jonas before revealing that she’s the sheriff and he’ll need a costly permit to continue. Her duet, “Fox in the Henhouse”, with Briggs is fun to watch and cleverly sets her character as one to reckon with.
As the story continues, a definite attraction develops between the sheriff and the “preacher” but there’s a glitch that may be difficult to overcome. Marla’s son Jake (Audrey Dupuis) is in a wheelchair and believes Jonas will miraculously cause him to walk again. Dupuis may be the most impressive voice in this show with her clear, crisp delivery of “Like Magic”.
Speaking of musical delivery, this was an ongoing problem in this production Thursday. The offstage live musicians are terrific, but the singers were all wearing microphones set apparently at either “heavy bass” or “ear splitting”. For example, we loved the perkiness and vitality that Pietras brought to her performance, but her songs were problematic. She had no problem with pitch or style, but the mike amplified her voice to the rafters and beyond. This was evident in both “I Can Read You” and even more strident in “Are You on the Bus?”
A voice of reason intrudes as Ida Mae’s son Isaiah (Rafeal McDaniel) arrives to protest his mother’s involvement with the charlatan, Jonas. We loved his “Dancin’ in the Devil’s Shoes” but with his powerful voice, the microphone tended to muffle diction.
McDaniel wasn’t the only one with the diction problem we are blaming on the amplification. Looney was often difficult to understand also. In a heavily sung show, diction is crucial to moving the story along.
We’re not going to tell you where this story of love and corruption ultimately ends, but we will extend kudos to Briggs’ strong performance on “Soliloquy” near the finale, plus applause for Van Horn and Pietras singing the sweet ballad “People Like Us”. Finally, we really must mention the townspeople – best described as a gaggle of theatre veterans and newcomers who add at least a half-gallon of rural spice and gullibility to this “Leap”
Director Delynne M. Miller moves her large cast around with ease even using the aisles and other offstage areas to good advantage, while Musical Director Frank E. Pitts joins a fine ensemble of seven musicians to anchor this show.
Now, should you decide to take a leap yourself, you must head over to the Flint Community Players’ Tom & Bea Nobles Performance Hall, 2462 S. Ballenger Hwy. Flint 48507. Leap of Faith continues today and May 12, 18 & 19 at 7:30 pm and May 13 & 20 at 2:30 pm. For more information and tickets call the box office at 810-441-9302 or find them online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com