Matt Tatone dazzles as Jonas, the evangelical con man in Leap of Faith, now in a terrific production by Minneapolis Musical Theatre at the New Century Theatre in partnership with Hennepin Theatre Trust. Jonas is a contemporary Elmer Gantry who meets his match in Marla, a sheriff who calls him out on his personal character. However, she oversteps in so obviously trying to prevent his stranded ministry-performance troupe from freely assembling and making a buck. Emily Jansen crackles in the role.
Leap of Faith pushes buttons. You may well find yourself siding with Marla because she can’t bear her wheelchair-bound son, Jake (an endearing Andrew Hey) falling for Jonas’ trickery. Nonetheless, Jake trusts the man with heartfelt passion. So is Marla a control freak or a loving mother or both? You decide.
Sara Pillatzki-Warzeha has directed the show with high-octane velocity, while making sure that every single characterization by every actor in the strong ensemble rings true. Sonya Nolen-Moon, Brianna Graham, and Brandon A. Jackson, all splendid, capture that uneasy feeling of family members in the ministry troupe at real odds with one another over their differences about how the gospel should be interpreted. Jackson wowed us last year in Artistry’s Hairspray as Motormouth Mabel. Once again, in Leap of Faith, you can’t take your eyes off him. This man has stage charisma like there’s no tomorrow!
All voices are vibrant as they master a variety of styles and moods tightly packed within Alan Menken’s music and Glenn Slater’s lyrics. Music director Christian Unser and his peachy keen musicians miraculously bring a forceful sound to the small New Century space without overpowering the story on stage and the audience. And they masterfully relate that compactness which makes for a briskly paced show that sweeps you along every moment. Bravo for all that!
This uplifting production muses wondrously on various issues involving faith, the monetizing of spiritual matters, the role of the law, and the existential reality of personal integrity. Janus Cercone and Warren Leight’s book distills the story’s fundamental ideas far better than the 1992 Steve Martin film.
Leap of Faith
Through May 22
New Century Theatre, 615 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis