Shows with Christian themes are fleeing Broadway faster than you can say “Amen.” Last month, “Leap of Faith” shuttered quickly, and “Sister Act, the Musical” recently announced that it will be closing its convent doors on August 26th. The producers of “Jesus Christ Superstar” have also given notice that if ticket sales don’t miraculously pick up, the curtain will come down on the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice revival on July 1st. That sea of red ink suggests that Broadway audiences tend to shy away from religious themes unless they are treated with some skepticism (John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt”), mystery (John Pielmeier’s “Agnes of God”), or satire (“Book of Mormon”).
Jesus will be soon be resurrected, however, in Craig Wright’s “Grace,” which opens on September 13th for a limited run with Paul Rudd, Michael Shannon, Ed Asner, and Kate Arrington. In this tragicomedy, Rudd and Arrington play a fundamentalist Christian couple who move to suburban Florida and plan to open a string of religious-themed “Sonrise” motels with the motto “Where Would Jesus Stay?” Shannon, an Oscar nominee for “Revolutionary Road,” plays an embittered neighbor -- disfigured in an accident which killed his fiancée -- who proves a challenge to the God-fearing, faith-abiding couple. Asner seems a perfect fit for the role of a meddling pest controller. Dexter Bullard, who collaborated with Shannon in the off-Broadway production of Wright's "Mistakes Were Made," will direct. Wright, a former Methodist seminarian turned playwright and screenwriter (“Recent Tragic Events,” “Six Feet Under”), has received acclaim for handling Big Issues with complexity, humor and sensitivity. “Wright never appeals to a least-common-denominator formula, and the result is a powerful, scorching drama that chips away at theology and the essence of spiritual belief,” wrote a critic when “Grace” had its world premiere at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in 2004. (It subsequently had well-received productions in Los Angeles and Chicago.)
Given its star power, “Grace” looks to have strong commercial prospects -- unlike the other flop shows mentioned above. Even “Sister Act,” which was presented by Whoopi Goldberg and ran for more than a year on Broadway, lost well over $10 million. What it received in return was a brand ii it no doubt will bill itself as the “Broadway hit musical” when it begins its North American tour in Toronto in October.