Topeka West’s ‘Leap of Faith’ lifts audience to new heights with its singing & dancing

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Con man Jonas Nightingale (Skyler Lindquist) leads a tent revival to bilk money from the downtrodden people of Sweetwater, Kansas, in “Leap of Faith,” a musical playing through Sunday, Feb. 12, in the Douglas P. Goheen Theater of Topeka West High School, 2001 S.W. Fairlawn Road.
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By Bill Blankenship
TopekaOnStage.com

You can’t judge a musical by the movie that inspired it, and you can’t gauge a local production of the musical by what critics wrote about its Broadway production.

Those are gospel truths about “Leap of Faith,” the must-see production playing through Sunday, Feb. 12, at the Douglas P. Goheen Theater of Topeka West High School, 2001 S.W. Fairlawn Road.

The script’s inspiration was a 1992 movie with the same title in which Steve Martin plays it straight as Jonas Nightingale, who touts himself as a faith healer and preacher as his caravan moves from town to town for revivals during which Nightingale miraculously reveals the the flock’s closely guarded secrets as he fleeces them of their hard-earned money because it isn’t God whispering in the reverend’s ear, it’s one of his cohorts who through eavesdropping on town gossip has learned everyone’s closeted skeletons.

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In Topeka West High School’s production of “Leap of Faith,” which was inspired by the 1992 musical starring Steve Martin, Jonas Nightingale (Skyler Lindquist) is a con man whose tent revivals take advantage of believers, but Jonas’ faith get tested when he meets a good woman in Sweetwater, Kansas, in the musical playing through Sunday in the Douglas Douglas P. Goheen Theater of the school, 2001 S.W. Fairlawn Road.
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That’s about where comparisons end between “Leap of Faith” the movie and “Leap of Faith” the musical in which gender and relationships are mixed and matched.

In the musical, Jonas (Skyler Lindquist) and his troupe’s bus breaks down in Sweetwater, Kansas, which is experiencing a drought, meteorological, financial and spiritual. Already in a deep financial hole, Nightingale convinces his entourage that they can raise enough money to get back on the road by staging a three-night tent revival.

Enter Marla McGowen (Breana Tiffany) who introduces herself as just another townswoman but as Jonas raises her suspicions reveals she is in fact the sheriff. (Shades of Marion the librarian meeting Professor Harold Hill in “The Music Man,” and foreshadowing of its premise that event the most ardent conman can be renewed by the love of a good woman.)

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Although her faith was shattered by a traffic wreck that killed her husband and crippled her son, Sheriff Marla McGowen (Breana Tiffany) may find religion trying to stop a so-called faith healer from bilking the townspeople of Sweetwater, Kansas, which she has sworn to protect in “Leap of Faith,” a musical playing through Sunday, Feb. 12, in the Douglas P. Goheen Theater of Topeka West High School, 2001 S.W. Fairlawn Road.
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Sheriff Marla gives the preacher three days to get out of town and promises she will be keeping watch on him, but it’s business as usual for Jonas, his accomplice kid sister, Sam Nightingale (Liz Freeman).

They dispatch the show’s choir, the Angels of Mercy, led by Ida Mae Sturdevant (Armanda Boxley), to collect the background and unearth the secrets of the citizens of Sweetwater so Jonas can miraculously reveal them in the revival tent.

Using a Bluetooth device through which Sam feeds information to Jonas, things go great on the first night until a boy in a wheelchair begs to be blessed. For some reason, Jonas skips him and moves to “heal” an elderly woman.

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Jake McGowan (Hunter Lyden), in wheelchair, believes in miracles and thinks he can receive one when a tent revival sets up shop in his hometown of Sweetwater, Kansas, in “Leap of Faith,” a musical playing through Sunday, Feb. 12, in the Douglas P. Goheen Theater of Topeka West High School, 2001 S.W. Fairlawn Road.
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The boy, Jake (Hunter Lyden), is determined to get his miracle as he believes in them despite disbelief in them not only by Jonas but by Jake’s mother, who turns out to be Sheriff Marla, whose faith was shattered years earlier in a traffic wreck that killed her husband and crippled her son.

Marla and Jonas find themselves attracted to one another, and Jake remains undeterred on his quest for a miracle, which leads to the climax of the revival’s third night during which everyone’s faith gets tested.

There is a secondary story that deals with Ida Mae, lead singer of the Angels of Mercy, and her two children, Ornella (Sirena Saulters), who is a believer in Jonas and Isaiah (Kevin Coffman), who on break from Bible college and who trusts in a power higher than this so-called preacher.

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Ida Mae Sturdevant (Armanda Boxley) sings “Lost” as she reflects on the path her life has taken as the choir leader of a tent revival that cons its attendees in the Tony-nominated musical “Leap of Faith,” playing through Sunday, Feb. 12, in the Douglas P. Goheen Theater of Topeka West High School, 2001 S.W. Fairlawn Road.
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All that said, the plot is the least significant reason for attending “Leap of Faith.” Its big draw is the music, which helped earn it Tony Award nomination for Best Musical despite it being Broadway’s biggest flop of 2010. It closed after 25 previews and 19 performances, losing investors $14 million.

However, subsequent reviews of regional and local productions of “Leap of Faith” have drawn hallelujahs from critics concerning the shows’ musical numbers by eight-time Oscar winner Alen Menken (“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Disney’s The Little Mermaid”). He described them to Playbill.com as drawing from “gospel, country and American roots music.”

The Topeka West production, directed by Ryan McCoy with musical direction by Joshua East, choreography by Sally Glassman and set design and technical direction by Michael Callaway, is sure to get the same reaction, particularly as East conducts a pit orchestra that mixes some of the Chargers’ best student musicians with some of the city’s best players.

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In “Dancin’ in the Devil’s Shoes,” siblings Isaiah (Kevin Coffman), left, and Ornella (Sirena Saulters) quarrel over the ethics of the leader of a tent revival in the musical “Leap of Faith,” on stage through Sunday, Feb. 12, in the Douglas P. Goheen Theater of Topeka West High School, 2001 S.W. Fairlawn Road.
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In addition to the aforementioned actors, the cast includes:

  • Angels of Mercy: Zak (Braden Chaffin), Carl (Adrienne Davis), Amon (Tate Donohue), Rosa (Taylor Engel), Caesar (Shakeem Mickey), Fletcher (Jared Schooler) and Danielle Carter, Courtney Dice, Kaylee Dinwiddie, Elda Flores, Lindy Karrer, Rhiannon Kincaid, Zoey Nichols, Smantha O’Hara-Arrington, Taylor Province, Tulsa Ragnhall, Gage Scott, Jon Waggle, Marissa Wagner and Shawna Wilson
  • Townspeople: Susie Raylove (Kayla Beitz), Deputy (Lucas Jackson), Amanda (Claire Perry), Emma Schlarp (Zoe Tippets) and Quinn Crider, Grace Ellis, Kaylee Free, Hugo Gonzales, Ben Lopez, Elecktia McMullen, Malissa Newcome, Carla Pagan, Charles Pershall, Summer Taylor, Alora Wilder and Beth Winkelman
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In Topeka West High School’s production of the musical “Leap of Faith,” the duet “People Like Us” features Sam (Liz Freeman), the kid sister of a conman preacher with whom the sheriff, Marla (Breana Tiffany), has fallen in love with. The show closes Sunday, Feb. 12, at the Douglas P. Goheen Theater of the school, 2001 S.W. Fairlawn Road.
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Orchestra members are:

  • Piano: Paul Priddy and Connie Roth
  • Bass: Johnny Belk and Forrest Evans
  • Guitar: Daniel McCready
  • Drums: Jason Degenhardt
  • Violin: Mahogany Green-Clanton and Donna Mealy
  • Viola: Hailey Zimmerman
  • Cello: Will Hess and Rosalyn Taylor
  • Woodwinds: Steve Funk
  • Trumpet: Nathan Jones-Walker and Stephen Patterson
  • Trombone: Andrew Anderson and John Martin

Other production staff members include:

  • Stage manager: Erin Watts
  • Assistant stage manager: Maria Rupp
  • Dance captain: Breana Tiffany
  • Assistant technical director: Ethan Crapser
  • Props: Melanie Ralston
  • Costumes: Liz Calloni
  • Instrumental coordinator: Carolyn Voth
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Con man Jonas Nightingale (Skyler Lindquist) kneels in prayer as for the first time in his years of preaching, its seems a miracle has delivered from his wheelchair Jake (Hunter Lyden), the son of the local sheriff with whom Jonas has fallen in love in the musical “Leap of Faith,” which closes Sunday, Feb. 12, in the Douglas P. Goheen Theater of Topeka West High School, 2001 S.W. Fairlawn Road.
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Crew members were:

  • Sound: Zoe Tippets and Jon Waggle
  • Makeup: Reagan Rohr and Bethany Sparks
  • Publicity: KorieAshburn, Landyn Gentry, Hugo Gonzales and Alora Wilder
  • Costumes: Hannah Gaul, Madeline Lopez, Charles Pershall and Beth Winkelman
  • Lights: Deven Baumechen, Gage Scott, Colton Schimmell, Dylan Soza and Britton Thompson
  • Props/grips: Emily Ellis, Lucas Jackson, John Martin, Maya Miller, Annaleeza Stenti and Taylor Wingert-Ashlock
  • Ushers: Alexis Gaudreau, Landyn Gentry, Lawanda Mayfield, Regan Neeley, Hadley Overstreet, Tori Payne and Cheynne Whyte
  • Set construction: Connor Brown, Isaac Dallen, Emily Ellis, Megan Fessman, Sierra Griffus, Luis Iracheta-Sanchez, Malachi Lewis, Chris Miller, Blake Noriega, Taylor Wingert-Ashlock and Braden Zerferjahn

 

 

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