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Monday, November 01, 2010


A few weeks ago (as I blogged earlier) I finally got to see  (and enjoyed) Leap of Faith. What I loved most though  (and what really made the show magnificent) was Raúl Esparza's electric performance.  He was, really, AMAZING (in an I-can't-get-it-out-of-my-head-amazing way).  Sure, I have had my musicals-du-jour throughout the years, but I can't remember the last time I saw one performer make a show work.  There's nothing terribly wrong with Leap of Faith as a whole (I like it), but its because of one performer (Esparza) that the show really worked as well as it did.  During intermission and post-show, I heard audience members everywhere around me excitedly buzzing about the strength of his performance.  The positive buzz about Leap of Faith was due in large part to Esparza.

The energy he brought to the stage almost became seductive because the way Esparza (as Jonas Nightingale) lured the audience into the story as much as he did the townspeople of Sweetwater made you really want to follow, trust and believe in his character - and when it was over, he left you wanting more .   When Esparza was on that stage, his presence was strong, but when he opened up his mouth to sing?  Forget about it, he owned it.  Esparza has an effortless vocal quality that is so clear, so strong and diverse - total rocker and yet 100% legit all within seconds of each other (while acting) - which is astounding!  And even now...after two weeks have come and gone since I saw Leap of Faith I am still thinking about the way he sounded.   He is phenomenal.

Lets be honest, since I left the theatre, I have been on a Raúl Esparza music kick - I am totally obsessed with the way he sings (lets just say that right now, my neighbors probably don't appreciate Being Alive, Petrified and select songs from tick, tick...BOOM! on continuous loop).  I am in complete awe over the way he uses his voice (the effect it has on phrasing and hitting some crazy notes) and how committed he is to his performance in whatever role he's in.  The man's voice was pretty fantastic when he first burst onto the scene in tick, tick...BOOM! (off-Broadway) in 2001 and his performance as Bobby in Company changed my perspective on a show that I thought I knew well.  

Cut to the 2007 Tony Awards:

Me:  Wait, that's Raúl Bobby...?  He's fantastic.  When did this happen?

How could I have missed  Raúl Esparza in Company prior to the Tony Awards?  When I saw the above clip during the awards telecast, I quickly got my musical theatre priorities straightened and then had to see more of the revival of this show.

In 2008, the Broadway Revival of Company on PBS Great Performances aired and though I was expecting him (after seeing the Tony Awards)  I was almost caught off guard by the brilliance of Esparza's portrayal of Bobby.  This was the first time I had seen the show in its entirety which also explains the added perspective to Company that I gained.  Over the years,  Company has easily become one of my favorite Stephen Sondheim shows.  When I saw it on PBS Great Performances though, everything changed - I gained a new perspective on the character of Bobby (post is forthcoming) and most importantly, I was reintroduced to Raúl Esparza.

It was 2001 when I was first introduced to Esparza when I  purchased tick, tick...BOOM! - the semi-autobiographical musical about the struggle the late Jonathan Larson endured to create and make an impression on the musical theatre landscape.  Esparza played Jon in tick, tick...BOOM! and I remember wondering what it was like to play someone who had only recently (and unexpectedly) passed away and to be the first person to bring this real person (not a character) to which Larson's parents, family and friends would be present.  I remember thinking that only an exceptional actor could pull that off and I admired Raúl Esparza for being able to do so.

Clearly, Esparza's voice is extraordinary and it makes you stop and listen and really believe in what he is singing about.  I think this is the case with every song I've heard him sing.  I am just so grateful to have had the opportunity to see/hear him live - what he did with every song he sang in  Leap of Faith just blew my mind.

Clearly, I'm not the only one who sees the brilliance in Raúl Esparza.  He is not only an amazing singer (as I've been rambling on about) but actor - look at the number of Tony Award nominations he's received since he made his Broadway debut in 2001 (thanks for the info, IBDb!):
  1.  Broadway Debut in The Rocky Horror Show - 2001
  2.  Tony Award nomination #1: Taboo (best featured actor in a musical) - 2004
  3.  Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - 2005
  4.  Tony Award nomination #2: Company (best actor in a musical)  - 2007
  5.  Tony Award nomination #3: The Homecoming (best featured actor in a play) - 2008
  6.  Tony Award nomination #4: Speed-the-Plow (best actor in a play) - (how did I not remember he was in THAT media debacle?). - 2009
This means that in a 5-year period (between 2004-2009), Esparza was nominated for a Tony Award in every possible category for which he was eligible.   Only Boyd Gaines (who was coincidentally the first Bobby in Company that I ever heard)  is the other actor to also have this same distinction .  If you haven't been fortunate to have seen Esparza perform, watch these and you'll see/hear what a phenomenal talent he is:

Raúl Esparza singing Lonely House at Seth's Broadway Chatterbox, 2004

Listen to the the way he sustains those notes!  Seriously?  And.  He can do Defying Gravity...and its no surprise he kills this too.

Raúl Esparza singing Defying Gravity at Seth's Broadway Chatterbox, 2004

In May 2005, Esparza appeared in the American Theatre Wing's Working in the Theatre seminar in which he said (in reference to what makes a good actor), "I don't want to put Raúl Esparza onstage, I want to put whoever that person [character] on stage is and somehow disappear..."  Sounds like a pretty obvious statement but I've been to enough shows (plays and musicals), seen plenty of TV shows or films in which that was not the case.  I have to say that when I saw Leap of Faith, I didn't necessarily feel that every actor onstage was their character, but I certainly felt so about Esparza - I feel confident in stating that I think is brilliant in pretty much anything he does.  I'm not sure where Leap of Faith will go (rumor has it Broadway-bound in Fall 2011).  If it does indeed go to Broadway, I hope that -Tony voters will see and hear just how magnificent he is as a performer and will reward him accordingly.   NY has a ton of fantastic singers/actors, I have not heard anyone who can sing a range of styles the way he can all the while being a remarkable actor to boot.   It is about time Tony voters.  All I can say is, get ready!

To Raúl Esparza, I have two words for you:  SOLO ALBUM.  Oh wait, actually there are three more words too:  CONCERT IN LA!  Ok, thanks...oh and, BRAVO!!!

Am I the only one utterly obsessed and amazed (other than Seth Rudetsky) with  Raúl Esparza's voice?  Tell me what you think: [theaterfan (at) aol (dot) com]!


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