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REVIEW: Leap of Faith Trips on Launch (Minneapolis Musical Theatre/HTT)

Emily Jansen and Matt Tatone in Leap of Faith.

Leap of Faith sounds like a better con than it is. A send-up of 1980s televangelism fraud, the musical features a score by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater, and a script by Janus Cercone and Slater. Menken is indisputably one of the most beloved musical theatre writers alive as well as the composing genius behind most of Disney’s hit musicals of the late 1990s. Slater partnered with Menken for the new lyrics in The Little Mermaid‘s stage version and has worked on a long string of shows. Cercone wrote the movie on which the musical is based, which was a modest, non-mass-produced Hollywood hit. This sounds like a recipe for something splendid, but the result is…blah.

“Blah” is also a pretty good description of the production as a whole. At opening night, Minneapolis Musical Theatre’s production seemed at least two weeks underrehearsed; “finely tuned” described neither the sonic texture or the cast’s intonation, which was very noticeably flat in many big solos. The New Century Theatre is not such a large venue as to demand strong amplification – but, in the balance, it would have been better to hand some of the mics to the Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir, who had a far more consistent and energetic gospel sound than the central cast.

The music of Leap of Faith is largely undistinguished. There are some cute songs, notably the duets “Fox in the Henhouse” and “People Like Us” (the latter a lovely vocal moment between Jill Iverson and Emily Jansen), but for the most part the score passes the time at best. It’s not Menken’s best writing by far and not the others, either – there are few surprises, too many unearned rewards, and far too much flimsiness in the characterizations. There’s a lot of potential in some of the characters that’s not mined either in the script or in the delivery (granted, there’s not a lot to work with), but the result feels rather like the infamous Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark – a first draft that has very little exciting about it, and the things that are exciting aren’t seen enough. This Leap stumbles pretty badly.

Basil Considine