TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “Leap of Faith” & “The Lyons”
Every first Wednesday of the month, get caught up with what’s on stage with our review round-up. And that vaguely hollow, clinking sound you hear at the end of each segment? That’s me tossing in my two cents. This month, we’ve got two shows that didn’t receive much Tony-nomination love but deserve a serious look…
“…directed with a pulsing comic rhythm by Mark Brokaw, [the play] draws laughs with the same reliability as, say, The Odd Couple. But with The Lyons, there’s often a gasp within the chuckle.” New York Times
“When you hear them delivered by pros like Dick Latessa and Linda Lavin, it’s comedy nirvana.” New York Post
“Nicky Silver’s caustically funny and emotionally satisfying family comedy is driven by a gem of a performance from Linda Lavin.” Hollywood Reporter
“…delightfully black comedy.” Entertainment Weekly
Mizer’s Two Cents: A victim of an unusually strong season for new plays, The Lyons would be tallying multiple nominations in any other year. See it, not just for Lavin’s justifiably acclaimed comedic master class (she gets laughs from single looks because her character work is so fully realized you can hear the joke she’s thinking in her head), but because the script is a fast-paced, zinger-laced ride that manages to find a bravely humane landing place without going soft. Theatre stalwart Dick Latessa provides delightfully caustic support as a dying patriarch with the mouth of a shock comedian. And Michael Esper, coiled up emotionally and physically, rises to Lavin’s level, slowly and rightfully taking center stage as the real lead of the play. One second act detour has been divisive for audiences (I found it a necessary and illuminating widening of the world) but there’s no question that when The Lyons hits its stride, it roars.
The Steve Martin film about a traveling con man/preacher raises its tent on Broadway in a musical adaptation featuring songs by the suddenly everywhere Alan Menken (Newsies, Sister Act) and Glenn Slater (Tangled).
“Its jokes, its romantic scenes, its dance numbers, its interchangeable songs by Mr. Menken … all feel as if they had been pasted into place the night before.” New York Times
“The only surprise … is how ridiculously fun it is.” New York Post
“An improvement on the movie but still not quite a religious experience.” Hollywood Reporter
“Faith ultimately works best as a showcase for its talented cast.” Entertainment Weekly
Mizer’s Two Cents: Oh ye of little Faith. I know that a mid-level musical can sometimes be more dispiriting than a tragically awful one (you can feel the “if only’s” dancing in the air), but I don’t get the vitriol being thrown at this piece. Its plus column is heavily weighted with a talented and wonderfully diverse ensemble, a strong secondary storyline that supports and amplifies the lead tale, some characters you genuinely care about, and musical theater craftsmanship that is concise and propulsive. Yes, Raul Esparza may not be ideally cast, his dark irony jumping to the play’s ending instead of giving us the entertaining showman the role would seem to require. Yes, the music is tuneful though perhaps not quite diverse enough. But by the end of the show I had a tear in my eye, swiftly followed by a grin on my face as a little theater magic was unveiled. See it if you’re willing to take a little leap of your own.