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North Shore Theatre Company (NSTC), formerly Chatswood Musical Society, puts love and miracles to the test with Tony-nominated musical Leap of Faith, set to raise the roof at The Independent Theatre, North Sydney from 5 to 14 October 2018.
Leap of Faith is a stage musical based on the 1992 American movie of the same name, which starred Steve Martin. The music is composed by eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast), with lyrics by Glenn Slater and a book by Janus Cercone and Slater.
The musical tells the story of 'Reverend' Jonas Nightingale, a partfull-timeerend and a full time con artist, who is travelling with his ministry. When his bus breaks down in the middle of small drought-ridden Sweetwater, a Kansas town, Jonas plans an impromptu revival to take the entire town for a ride within 3 days. The some-time reverend pitches a tent and invites the townspeople to his revival, however, the town sheriff named Marla McGowan, is determined to stop Jonas from taking the people's money.
Director of NSTC's production of Leap of Faith Chapin Ayres fell in love with the show while visiting New York six years ago. "I saw Leap of Faith on Broadway in 2012 not knowing anything about it, and I just fell in love with the music and heart of the show immediately," she said. "It has the perfect balance of being both funny and touching, and each character is crafted perfectly.
Ayres is also President of NTSC and feels Leap of Faith is a seamless addition to the company's niche - producing new and different musicals. "We are presenting shows that either have not been done before in Australia or have a wonderful book," she said. "We steer away from popular musicals that many community theatre groups love performing and instead offer audiences a show they've never seen before."
Leap of Faith offers a moving tribute to the power of inspiration and love. Ayres said audience members who think they are coming to get 'preached at' will get a good surprise. "Leap of Faith is not about religion, it's about your own personal belief systems and whether you believe miracles really can happen," she said. "I think we have all met someone like Jonas at some point in our life – cocky, gifted, persuasive, good looking – he's like that 'bad boy' that every girls wants in their teens but we know are flawed and emotionally troubled. "
The brilliant ensemble cast is directed by Andrew Beban and choreographed by Olivia Cathro. Mr Morchio seemed to be a natural fit to play the leading role as Jonas Nightingale. His onstage energy is terrific with his lightning-tongue charms. Aided by his manager and little sister, Sam (Taggie Ennis), they tried to dupe the townspeople of Sweetwater. Morchio convinced us that his choir, the Angels of Mercy (led by Ida Mae, played by Rachael Gillfeather) can convince the naive townsfolk to pour their offerings into the collection plates. Morchio has a lovely voice and brings depth to his character, but after one hour and half of singing, his voice sounded a bit torn towards the end.
The petite lovely local sheriff, Marla McGowan (Micharla Leisk) delivered a powerful stage presence. She sees right through the phony holy man and locked him up to protect her townspeople and her paraplegic son. But romantic sparks fly between them, giving everyone an unexpected chance for redemption.
The musical numbers are fabulous and everyone really enjoyed "Rise Up!" as the rousing cheerful introduction number. The entire audience was captivated by the intriguing "I Can Read You" courtship song between the preacher and sheriff. Leisk portrayed her character well in her wistful "Long Past Dreamin'.
The Independent Theatre North Sydney is a charming venue, however, we felt the stage was not spacious enough to fit the entire cast, thus, some of the dance movements are slightly restricted. The choir members and townsfolk look like real people where the audience can certainly relate to. With enough budget for future productions, I would suggest better and more fitted costume designs for the cast.
Overall, the entire cast of NSTC sells the story plot really well - with loads of energy, powerful singing and fast dancing. This is a lovely musical where you go to for aspiring entertaining performances.