Let Me Tell You What I Liked About: LEAP OF FAITH

Welcome to my new series “Let Me Tell You What I Like About…”   The premise is basic.  I am going to write about the things I LIKE about a Broadway show.  My theory is this:  I see a lot of shows, and in this era of snarky armchair critics on Broadway message boards, a moment of “Hey, you know what I thought was interesting” might be a welcome change.  My posts so far:

Let Me Tell You What I Liked About EVITA

Let Me Tell You What I Liked About NEWSIES

Let Me Tell You What I Liked About ONCE

Like in my SMASH Fact or fiction posts, I want to continue our conversation about the ins and outs of a Broadway show.  The difference?  We’re talking real Broadway shows, not a television show that’s about a Broadway show.

Are you all with me?  Instead of doing fact or fiction, we’re doing:

Let Me Tell You What I Like About….

Leap of Faith

Okay, so look. I haven’t read the reviews, but based on what I’ve heard, I think think this show got a bad rap. I’m going to say it. I liked this show and (trust me on this) there are worse shows that have run longer.

Let’s start with a quick history of Leap of Faith to catch up those of you who might not eat, sleep and breathe musical theater history the way some people do–and by “some people” I mean my husband Rob Meffe, who just so happens to be a professor of musical theater history and repertoire for Pace University’s musical theater program.

Rob says I always drag him into my projects, and this series is no exception.

And now, direct from the piano, Professor Rob Meffe.

Composer Alan Menken has three new shows open on Broadway at this current time (Sister Act and Newsies are the other two), an honor shared by only two other American composers (it has happened three times with Andrew Lloyd Webber, but he’s in a class by himself).  The other two are Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Pippin and The Magic Show) and Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Civil War).  Alan Menken got his start writing musicals in the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop, an innovative program to help young musical theater writers hone their craft.  Some famous alumni of this program are Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Once On This Island, Seussical, etc), Tom Kitt (Next To Normal), and Bobby Lopez & Jeff Marx (Avenue Q). Menken’s collaborator at the BMI Workshop was Howard Ashman, and on the strength of their second musical together (Little Shop Of Horrors), they were hired by Disney to write the songs for their new animated feature movies (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin).

One interesting and ironic aspect of Alan Menken’s life (considering that an antagonist in Little Shop of Horrors insists that he be addressed as Orvin Scarvello, DDS!), is that his father, grandfather and uncle were all dentists.

Thank you Professor Meffe.  If you were in his class, this would be featured in the “Menken/Schwartz week” and you would have to prepare an appropriate song from their canon.  Please hum “Dentist” or “Defying Gravity” as you read.  Thank you.

Let me tell you what I liked and what peaked my interest.

What I Liked # 1 It stars Raul Esparza and while he plays a lot of impressive and interesting supporting roles, but it isn’t every day we get to see him as the above the title lead.  (What does “above the title” mean? Look at the show graphic at the top of this post and see his name?  That means that if he is out sick you can get a full refund.)  Known for dynamic performances in plays and musicals (not many people get to cross between plays and musicals as easily as he does), Raul Esparza does not disappoint. I wondered going in if his performance would reflect the lack of TONY nomination (he’s in good company, many top performers have been excellent in shows only to come up short at nomination time), but this blogger is happy to report that he is full of zip. Even Charlotte (my 14-year-old, made famous in my NEWSIES post) leaned over and said “Geez!” (in a good way) after his big 11 o’clock come to Jesus song (which is–literally–a come to Jesus song). I’ve never met him, I’ve heard this and that about him, but I am here to tell you–he delivers in a big way in every show he is in. maybe he was snubbed because he is in a splashy musical in a disco ball jacket and not doing Beckett. Whatever. Go see him.

What I Liked #2 Keisha Lewis-Evans. Do you know her? You should. She has the greatest low notes in the business. I’m not kidding. I could listen to her sing the phone book. She didn’t get to cut loose quite as much as I maybe would have liked, but that is possibly because in my perfect world Keisha sings “Mama Will Provide” from ONCE ON THIS ISLAND in my living room once a day for the rest of my life. Also noteworthy is her solo in “Rain” from the same show, and we will get to rain in this show, but that’s in a minute. As lore about Keisha goes (I have no idea if this is true, but I think so), she left the business during the run of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND to pursue a career as a preacher. Since (in my head) she’s already a preacher, it made her role in LEAP OF FAITH all the more authentic. Look. When she sings, I feel good in the rafters, and we don’t get to hear her enough. Just listen as Lin Manuel from In The Heights fame, lip synchs “Mama Will Provide”, sung by Lewis-Evans.  Ridiculous and fun, but don’t forget to listen to her sing.  Also, remember to come back and finish up because the next part of the post is *S*P*O*I*L*E*R*S*

SPOILER ALERT!  I shouldn’t do this, but the show is closing in 3 days, so what the hell.

What I Liked #3 The rain.  Yes, it does, in fact, rain onstage at the end of the show.  I tell you this knowing that I am probably ruining things for you….or at least the producers might think I am….but let’s face it, we all know it’s going to rain from the moment they say “drought”.  Right?  Right.  So as I watched the rain pour down I thought to myself, “Oh my god, 5 department heads had a heart attack when they were told it was going to rain onstage” and let me tell you why.

Think about it.  You have a cast full of people onstage and drenching rain and look at all the nightmares it causes for:

Microphones

Wigs

Costumes including shoes

Safety

Clean up

I had 50 thousand questions about it and I will tell you what I found out.  Ready?

Microphones.  How in the world did they keep the sound going?  The rain was literally running down their faces and is spitting out as they sang.  Mics are a temperamental lot; there are even rules about not using hairspray when you have them on because the droplets can short out a mic.  Turns out…there is a really good reason those mics don’t short out….but I can’t tell you because it’s “theater magic” and I swore I wouldn’t.  But if you want to know, send me a message and I will totally tell you.

Wigs.  So it pours down rain on an expensive wig that takes hours to set and style.  How is it that the hair department did not all walk off the job when they found out about the rain?  How would they get those wigs restyled for the second show on a two show day?  They have “rain wigs” which are special wigs only worn for the rain sequence.  Clever, huh?

Costumes and shoes.  Same thing as wigs.  It all gets ruined and wet and you have to get ready for another show…so what do you do?  They dry the costumes that they can (like t-shirts), they have doubles for the other stuff and they have “rain” shoes.  They’d have to because they are literally kicking the rain and splashing in it.  Some of the shoes can also be dryed (in a dryer I’m assuming, can you imagine how LOUD that must be between shows? THUMP, THUMP, THUMP as 20 pairs of shoes spin around).

Safety.  Apparently safety has not been an issue at all because there is a special floor that provides them from slipping.  Also, the choreography has been modified since they debuted in LA and it is a little safer for the dancers because they are no longer dancing on the drain that runs through the stage.

Clean up.  I wanted to know if the stage was ever damp, and if the rain was hard to clean up, and the answer was no.  They get it dried up in no time (if you watch after the curtain call, crew members come out and squeegee the stage within an inch of it’s life.

THE BEST PART ABOUT THE RAIN WATER???

It’s heated, so the performers don’t get too cold.  I mean….come ON…that’s Broadway kids.  You know that when the Barn Players of Peoria do Leap of Faith  in their summer stock season, it’s going to be some 19-year-old intern up in the rafters with a hose full of freezing cold water to make that rain.

Please note I have my very first advertiser (more are coming).  She’s a licensed therapist with a performing arts background (she went to NYU) and she gives workshops for actors who are looking to break through emotionally.  Go up and check it out (her ad is a link, as is this text) and it will tell you all about her.  The workshops are at Ripley Greer Studios in Manhattan, very reasonably priced, and essential for anyone who gets in their own way.  The next workshop “Facing a Challenging Role” is on May 21st.  Welcome to my blog, Valerie Simon!

Go do that workshop, readers!

And have a great last few shows, Leap of Faith cast.  Nobody wants a closing notice.  Go out with pride.

About Sharon Wheatley

Mother of Charlotte and Beatrix. Sometimes an actress. Sometimes a writer. I'm glad you're here.
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8 Responses to Let Me Tell You What I Liked About: LEAP OF FAITH

  1. Chip says:

    You rock, Sharon! And so does Rob. Of course. [Seth Rudetsky voice] Bra-VA!!

  2. David says:

    Re: three shows running at once, Jerry Herman also achieved this feat when Dolly, Mame, and Dear World briefly ran at the same time, February 6-May 31, 1969. He was actually the first person to do this I believe.

    Love the column!

  3. Craig Woythaler says:

    I saw an early preview, and I agree with you. It needed a lot more work, but I was entertained. And didn't expect the emotional wallop of the 11:00 number.

    And I want to know the microphone secret!

  4. Greg T. says:

    I play in the orchestra for, "Leap of Faith, " and thank you for this. We're all sorry to see this one go down!

  5. Cynthia Shaw says:

    I like your style. I’m a friend of Chip Prince and he posted your blof on FB. Keep up the good work!

  6. Karen says:

    Having done "Singing in the Rain" in stock (wardrobe), I'd love to know the mic secret! I know the costume (washable suit duplicates) and duplicate shoes. On 2 show days, I spent most of Act II drying shoes to be worn again in Act I of the second show. Love those hairdryers!! But I really want to know the mic secrets!

  7. Claudia says:

    *Kecia Lewis-Evans

    There is nothing in any law or rule that states that producers have to provide a refund if an above-the-title star is out. Common myth. It is always the producer's choice whether or not to refund. A star being above the title usually means they are a big enough star to demand that, and if they are that famous, then there will probably be a lot of angry audience members if they are out, so producers might be more willing to offer refunds, but they do not have to. Many producers do end up following the informal "above-the-title = refunds" rule, but that is their choice.

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