Image Credit: Craig SchwartzWhen I arrived at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday night for the opening of Leap of Faith — a new musical starring Raúl Esparza and Brooke Shields making its world debut — I wasn’t exactly prepared for the onslaught of famous faces milling about the entrance to the theater. I really shouldn’t have been surprised. It is all too rare that a big time musical seemingly bound for Broadway premieres in Los Angeles, and so the orchestra section was naturally lousy with Hollywood theater fans, A Gays, and A Gay-Adjacents (a Venn diagram with a lot of overlap, by the by). Look, it’s How I Met Your Mother‘s Neil Patrick Harris and Milk producer Dan Jinks and Modern Family‘s Jesse Tyler Ferguson with co-stars Eric Stonestreet, Julie Bowen, and Ty Burrell. Check it out, there’s Jimmy Smits and Vanessa Williams and Eric McCormack. I’m pretty sure that’s Perez Hilton holding court over there near Broadway legend (and recent HIMYM guest star) Ben Vereen. Community‘s Yvette Nicole Brown appears to be just as bubbly in person as she is on TV. And did anyone realize just how broad Matthew Morrison‘s shoulders are? Mr. Schue is built like a linebacker!
Anyway, you get the idea. So did the show live up to all this bold-faced name attention? Kinda. It’s based on the 1992 Steve Martin movie — the film’s screenwriter Janus Cercone co-wrote the book with lyricist Glenn Slater (Sister Act: The Musical) — but really, it plays like The Music Man with religion and a 21st century gloss of self-awareness. At times, in fact, the production felt like it was built from the ground up solely to be a big hit on Broadway, which isn’t necessarily a sin. Esparza expertly chews the scenery as a huckster revival preacher working a hard-up Kansas town for a quick buck, and a strong supporting cast helps bring the church to composer Alan Menken’s showbiz-gospel melodies. As for Shields, who plays an earnest single mom who’s got the preacher’s number, she just simply isn’t a Broadway belter. Still, with some tweaks, I could see this show having a lucrative life on the Great White Way — just don’t expect anything new in this “new musical.” (Click here for my full “B” review.)