Published: May 16th 2012May 14th 2012
Reading my most recent reviews, one might get the impression that I have not liked anything this year. But that would be incorrect. In fact, I really liked 3 different shows, so I'm going to discuss them for a bit....
The first, unfortunately, you will not get a chance to see, because Leap of Faith was a victim of the fierce competition for ticket buyers' money and had its last performance today. The show is based on the Steve Martin of the same name, concerning a con-man/preacher stuck in the small town of Sweetwater, Kansas and pitching his revival tent to scam the locals. The conceit of the show is that we, the audience, are attending a revival meeting at the Saint James Theater in NY and being told the preacher's story in flashback. This allows for an interesting "pre-show" set up, and also allows a number of the characters to break the 4th wall during the show and address the audience directly.
Raul Esparza starred as Jonas Nightingale, and boy, was he fun to watch. He was in great voice, and unlike some other stars of Broadway shows, he can actually hold his own with the other dancers on stage. Some actors might have been tempted to just take it easy on their last day, but Mr. Esparza gave it his all. And indeed, he showed not only professionalism, but a wonderful charm. At the end of one number, the audience would not stop clapping for 3 of his co-stars (Kendra Kassenbaum, Kecia Lewis-Evans and Krystal Joy Brown). He broke character (well since he's actually supposed to be telling his own story in flashback, he half broke character) and brought the three ladies back to the front of the stage to take another bow. Esparza also had great chemistry with Jessica Phillips, who played Marla McGowan, the local sheriff and his eventual love interest. The entire cast (which was pretty large and consisted of a wonderful diversity of performers) was fun to watch, and while the show had a somewhat predictable arc, it was still a bus ride that I enjoyed taking with these folks. And I'm hoping that someone decides to preserve a cast recording of this show.
Next up is Newsies, based on the Disney movie of the same name. This show had its start at the Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey last year, and with the quick closing of Bonnie and Clyde, Jeremy Jordan who starred it in there was able to reprise his role for this limited engagement, now on sale through August. Jordan plays Jack Kelly, who ends up leading a strike of Newsies (paper-selling newsboys) against the great Joseph Pulitzer in 1899. The newsboys strike really did happen, but the events have been edited and altered for storytelling sake. In addition, those familiar with the Disney movie will notice a number of changes and the deletion and insertion of different characters. The show is high energy, with an incredible amount of dancing and acrobatics. While the dancers are incredible with a number of them getting wonderful moments in the spotlight, they are not exactly believable as a bunch of preteen or teenage orphans/runaways. But a little suspension of disbelief went a long way and at the end of the show I was willing to forgive any niggling little discrepancies with history.
Finally we come to a London import, a stage production of the movie Ghost. Of the three shows I'm discussing, this is the movie I know the best. So, I knew exactly what was going to happen and when. The show took a while to get going for me, not really hitting its stride until after Sam's murder. The cast of the show does well invoking the characters without mimicking the actors that originally played the parts, but the Molly character gets saddled with the bulk of the bland ballads and thus is a bit hard to sympathize with. We saw an understudy as Oda Mae Brown, but she was so good that I didn't really care. She gets a song late in act 2 that while pointless, is still a lot of fun. The show makes heavy use of projections, which I normally don't like, but these are done well. Especially well done is the "effect" when Sam is trying to walk through things and move objects. It actually took me a minute to figure out how they were doing it! People who like shows to be identical to the movies on which they are based may not like what's done here, but I was in a very good mood when I walked out of this show, and I definitely recommend it.