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Sydney Review - Leap Of Faith: hope, love, greed and miracles

Leap Of Faith

Music by Alan Menken

Book by Janus Cercone and Warren Leight

Lyrics by Glenn Slater

Directed by Chapin Ayres

A North Shore Theatre Company Production

The Independent Theatre

Miller Street

North Sydney

Season: October 5 – October 14. Bookings:

Leap of Faith was inspired by the 1992 movie of the same name and is a good ol’ revival meeting set in the deep south USA. All the hallmarks of a good plot are here – hope, love, greed and miracles, with plenty of song and dance to hold the story together.

The Director, Chapin Ayres, Musical Director Andrew Beban and Choreographer Olivia Cathro had quite a task before them in getting this production together. There are 21 musical numbers, 17 cast members, 10 production crew, 10 orchestra members, 4 stage crew and two miracles to contend with.

Staging was cleverly done by having all sets form part of the town and included the ministry bus, a motel, a gaol, and a sheriff’s office. The Independent Theatre audience even acted as additional townsfolk during the tent revival scenes.

The main character is Jonas Nightingale, played by Mateo Morchio. He leads a Ministry that travels from town to town preaching salvation. With a mix of upbeat gospel music, inspirational messaging, and apparent healings, townspeople give generously when the plate comes around.

Upon reaching Sweetwater Kansas, the ministry bus breaks down and they are forced to wait three days for parts to arrive. Jonas sees this as providence and tells his ministry to erect their show tent and prepare for an impromptu revival meeting over three nights. After all, this town is gripped by drought and there are a lot of local people prepared to give to anyone who can solve their daily problems, whether they be gambling, drinking or failed marriages.

The town sheriff, Marla McGowan (Michaela Leisk) is awake up to this troupe’s trickery and attempts to foil the revival by imposing heavy permit fees and penalties. However, Jonas presses on with mild success on the first night’s meeting.

He manages to seduce Marla with his irrepressible charm, but she is still able to see his charlatan nature. Marla’s 13-year-old son Jake (Nile Sturzaker) is wheelchair bound due to a car accident year’s earlier in which his father was killed. Young Jake is beholden to the hope that “those who believe” can be cured and therefore he implores Jonas to make him walk again.

Jonas knows that he is a cheap con man and cannot deliver on making it rain or getting Jake to walk. However, his ministry is depending on him to pay their bills and any sense of guilt is conveniently put aside.

Other key characters in the story are Sam Nightingale (Taggie Ennis), Jonas’ sister who manages the ministry and ensures that there are plenty of vulnerable people in the audience who Jonas can con. Ida Mae (Rachael Gillfeather) is a choir leader just trying to make a living. Her adult son Isaiah (Grant Loxton) is a real preacher who wants to legitimise the ministry. He gives Marla information about Jonas’ past which sets off a course of events leading ultimately to redemption for Jonas.

As a musical, Leap of Faith offers gospel and country-inspired songs, mostly with a salvation theme. Two notable tunes were Long Past Dreamin’ and Are you on the Bus?

I found the acoustics of this theatre wanting and had trouble catching all the words during musical presentations. The orchestra played tightly, dance scenes worked well, lighting and sound gave depth and costumes were varied and colourful. The production might benefit if seen in a smaller theatre.

Overall, Leap of Faith is an entertaining show. It does not mock religion, rather it warns of false prophets such as Jonas. And its message of hope is one we all need from time to time. Well worth a visit!

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