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Friday, October 22, 2010


Since the 90s, I have been a very consistent patron at the Center Theatre Group's productions back when I referred to its collective theatres as The Music Center (before the Kirk Douglas Theatre) back when The Phantom of the Opera was in residence at the Ahmanson (and held the record for the longest running musical in Los Angeles' history.)  After Phantom closed and the theatre was refurbished, naturally I returned to see the musicals that had finally made their way to Los Angeles from the Great White Way from Showboat to The Light In the Piazza and Spring Awakening (in which I was lucky enough to get stage seating); I saw groundbreaking productions like Caroline, or Change and joint productions with Deaf West Theatre Company: Big River and Pippin; there have also been Broadway-bound shows like 13, The Drowsy Chaperone and Flower Drum Song as well. Shows like these have been feeding my theatre-hungry soul for years. Of course there are some unmentioned productions that I didn't love, yet I am still grateful that the theatre can be so accessible and that I have had the opportunity to see what I've seen, good, bad and ugly.

Its amazing that the quality shows that have most recently played at  Center Theatre Group's theatres because all have truly been such satisfying productions.  I have had the pleasure of seeing shows like  Parade, (see my gushing blog entry here), Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, The Glass Menagerie and most recently,  Leap of Faith.  I'm typically not as big a play-goer as I am a musical go-er, but the last two plays I have seen have definitely struck a chord with me and made me want to see more plays.

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo was not the kind of play I typically run out to see for many reasons including that it is somewhat fantasy based and that it is about war...the Iraqi War.  I have never been so impressed and so amazed at a story about the aftermath of war that is as hauntingly beautiful as it is tragic and funny.  Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo opened my eyes and gave me a new perspective that I would have never had if I had missed this show.  Prior to seeing this, I had a hard time believing I would enjoy it, but did I ever!  For days, I was left thinking about the story and wishing I could see it again though not sure if I had the energy knowing I would be emotionally exhausted when it was over.  It kept me thinking about it long after I walked out of the theatre's doors.

I saw The Glass Menagerie next - a play that I had read in high school (I think) and college and though I studied it in depth, I don't know if I was ever that taken by its storyline.   This production  however, was different and I left the theatre practically in tears because I had finally seen a production of this show that I understood emotionally and I was open to and able to really understand its characters and the purpose of the storyline.  Judith Ivey as Amanda Wingfield was superb and when I finally saw who the characters of Laura and Tom were; I understood who they were - that they were bits and pieces of a lot of people I knew (including myself); I saw that some of the people I knew could  (and would) have fates similar to Laura's and it just broke my heart.  Every actor in stage was phenomenal and I left the theatre feeling changed by the production.  Somehow, in those three or so hours, something changed in me and I had a new perspective on my own life and career.

Perhaps it was the idea of hope and faith that drew me to the Ahmanson's most recent production (that I hope goes to Broadway), Leap of Faith; maybe it was the beautiful score by Alan Menken, but either way, I really, really enjoyed it.  I loved the energy of the cast when they sang gospel-y numbers like Step into the Light and Rise Up:

I thought the dancing evoked dance numbers from the Golden Age of Broadway and I found myself bopping to the beat of the music in my seat with a silly grin plastered on my face throughout most of the show.  Typically, I am not the biggest fan of movie turned musicals (however I did enjoy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) but Leap of Faith really delivered.  At one point as I was discussing the show, I even forgot that this was a movie to musical adaptation.  Since I was trying to be open-minded and keep a positive attitude, I walked into the show not really having any expectations.  Prior to seeing it, I didn't read any reviews, I didn't listen to or watch any clips online because I knew if I did see it, I wanted to go in with a completely unbiased attitude.  Even though I wasn't 100% sure I really wanted to see the show, there were finally two factors that finally made me purchase tickets:
  1. I figured it was likely going to Broadway sometime soon and I didn't want to miss it.
  2. The recent revival of Company with Raúl Esparza as Bobby gave me a new perspective on him as an actor (ok, I thought he was one of the best Bobby's I've seen/heard) and since then, I have been wanting to see him perform live.
Ok, there were three factors, the third was that I have been desperately wanting to go to the theatre to see a good musical...and I was hoping that this would fulfill my musical theatre fix.

Before I go on, I will say that Esparza is nothing short of amazing in this production as Jonas Nightingale and if it goes to Broadway, I am certain that at the very least, he will be nominated for a Tony Award.  He was that good. During the number (the one to the right) Last Chance Salvation, Esparza was so dynamic, I thought he might be getting a standing ovation before intermission.  The character of Jonas Nightingale walks a very thin line between brilliant and completely overdone and  Esparza was perfectly brilliant - a greasy and smarmy showman in the beginning and transformed into a more sensitive morally aware guy.  As an evangelical con-artist with a heart, Jonas Nightingale has to border the overly exaggerated, high energy, showy performer with some humanity (which Esparza does superbly).  As Marva McGowan, Brooke Shields was a perfect mix of strong and sensitive and could be considered to be a stabilizing force in the show.  Sometimes I thought Esparza overpowered her, but I think that he was supposed to.  When I think of the brilliance of this show, it is Esparza who clearly steals the show with a great supporting cast including Leslie Odom, Jr. as Ricky Sturdevant who also made a pretty substantial impression on me. 

Leap of Faith isn't the kind of show that will keep you thinking about the story long after you leave the theatre in an attempt to try to better understand it but it is the kind of show that will make you smile and remind you about life and hope and humanity.  It is a feel-good musical in the truest sense of the word and I really hope this show goes to Broadway.  With a just a smidge of tightening up, I think it will do quite well.  It was well received by audiences when I went even with the technical difficulties in which everyone kept spilling liquids  onstage, the cast had the audience eating it up (not literally).  At one point, Esparza stopped the show to get the spilled lemonade cleaned up since it would be dangerous to dance on a slick stage. Though the fourth wall was broken, the audience didn't care and loved that the actors were breaking on-stage, trying to hold it together. All in all, this show is fantastic with a first rate cast of actors and dancers who all really shine as a company.  BRAVO!

Leap of Faith closes Sunday, October 24. Such a fun show and this cast isn't to be missed!


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