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Leap of Faith

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Leap of Faith is the title of a forgettable 1992 movie starring the inimitable comic, Steve Martin. Written by Janus Cecone, Martin--as phony faith-healer, Jonas Nightingale--was the film's headliner, while Lolita Davidovich played Marva McGowan, who becomes one of the con man's would-be victims. She's a single mother, waitressing for a living in rural Kansas.

Cercone has recently refitted his Leap of Faith script to the stage. With the addition of a score by Oscar-winner Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater, Leap of Faith, under the direction and choreography of Rob Ashford, has been reconfigured into a musical extravaganza. Now the small town that Jonas preys upon is named Sweetwater instead of Rustwater, one indication of the change in tenor from the cinematic version to the live incarnation. What's more, the casting has been substantially altered in terms of type. Brook Shields (in a sturdy characterization, with a surprisingly pleasant voice) gets top billing as Marva, while Jonas is portrayed (with contagious energy) by Raul Esparza.

Though the production glitz in Leap of Faith--from Donald Holder's majestic lighting motif to Robin Wagner's impressive and believable scenic design (along with William Ivey Long's costuming and John Shivers' sound effects)--tends to provide cover for the plot inconsistencies of the show, we in the audience are nonetheless drawn in to the proceedings. After all, Marva's young son, Boyd (the vocal wunderkind Nicholas Barasch), was crippled in the accident that killed his father. The longsuffering town is drought-ridden and primed for a miracle. Faith and hope are Sweetwater's only allies.

Cue Jonas Nightingale and his traveling tent show, Gospel choir and all. Part Elmer Gantry, with a dash of The Music Man and pieces of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat tossed in for good measure, Faith is sometimes a rousing musical experience--orchestrations by Michael Starobin and Joseph Joubert, conducted by Brent-Alan Huffman. With nearly two-dozen song and dance routines there's plenty to see, hear, and enjoy in Leap of Faith. Still, when Jonas' fraudulent preaching finally does appear to pay-off in actual miracles, our willing suspension of disbelief is strained, to say the least.

What, finally, the moral of this Broadway bound newbie? If you believe in something enough, that's all it takes to make it happen? Come on. Crime pays? Hopefully not. In fact, what we're left with after the razzle-dazzle spectacle and admittedly moving performances--including Leslie Odom, Jr. as Ricky, Kecia Lewis-Evans as Ida Mae, Krystal Joy Brown as Ornella, and Kendra Kassebaum as Sam--is that this two hour forty minute show is much like the tent revivals it portrays: exhilarating in the moment, forgettable in substance.

"Leap of Faith" continues at the Ahmanson Theatre--135 North Grand Avenue, Los Angeles--through October 24. Show times are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. Matinees are at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. on Sundays. There's also an evening performance at 6:30 p.m. every Sunday, except on October 24 (a special 2 p.m. matinee will be offered on Thursday, October 21).For reservations, dial (213) 972 - 4400. For online ticketing, visit www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.