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Peter T Chattaway

Leap of Faith - the musical

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Link to our thread on the documentary Marjoe (1972); the cinematographer on that film went on to direct the movie version of Leap of Faith (1992).

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'Leap of Faith's' long, hard road to Broadway

Manheim remembered being on the movie's set in Texas when a gospel choir was rehearsing a scene in a church where the lead character, Jonas Nightengale (Steve Martin), was about to preach.

"Jannie and I turned to each other and said, 'This should be a musical,' " Manheim recalled.

It wasn't, and the movie wasn't successful at the box office or with critics. But the idea of a musical was planted. It wasn't until 2000 that they got serious about fulfilling that dream.

Their first call was to longtime friend and composer Alan Menken ("Beauty and the Beast," "Little Mermaid"), who with eight Oscars has more than any other living person. A veteran of theater ("Little Shop of Horrors"), he's also been nominated twice for Tonys. . . .

Meanwhile, the story, music and lyrics were starting to take form. "The hardest work on a musical is not the dialogue," Cercone said, "it's the structure. How do you adapt this as a musical instead of just a film story? The first big change was from simply the exploration of a man's philosophical and spiritual awakening to a love story. The biggest leap of faith you can take is the one you take when you fall in love." . . .

Hollywood Reporter, September 24

'Leap of Faith' ready for world premiere at Ahmanson Theatre

Hard to believe, this all started with a fairy-tale princess, nearly 20 years ago.

Menken said he and two longtime friends, playwright Janus Cercone and her husband-producer Michael Manheim, went to New Orleans to soak in some local colour for a possible TV musical about Cinderella.

"We went to a Pentecostal church and saw a service," Menken recalled. "We actually saw a second-line funeral. We ate a lot of food. We did a whole lot of research about Mardi Gras, about New Orleans and about many types of music, including gospel."

Menken had to bow out of the trip early, to continue working on his movie musical "Newsies" (1992) and "nothing ever happened," the composer noted. They forgot about it. Though not completely.

"About a year later," Cercone said, "I woke up from a vivid dream," turned to her husband and "started describing the story line and the characters." By 1991, they were filming "Leap of Faith," starring Steve Martin as flimflam man Nightingale.

"The first day of shooting was out in this empty, dried-up field in Texas, on a day they were about to have a tornado," Cercone remembered. "The gospel choir was singing in the middle of this field. We were raising the revival tent. And it was thrilling. And I turned to my husband Michael ... and, in unison, we said, 'Oh my God, it's a musical."

But by then, it was too late to make such a wholesale change to the script. Despite some strong reviews for Martin's rare dramatic turn, the movie pretty much opened and closed in December 1992.

Cercone said she was about "60-per cent happy" with the film, which never made clear Nightingale's fate, but Cersone always wanted to see the characters live on. She and Manheim approached Menken again around 2000, this time asking about a stage-musical adaptation. . . .

Associated Press, October 1

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