Betsy & Dick DeVos, Foursquare Foundation
The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson
Book, Lyrics, Additional Music by Kathie Lee Gifford
Music by David Pomeranz and David Friedman
Candy Buckley, Edward Watts, Roz Ryan, Andrew Samonsky,
And an ensemble of actors/dancers/singers
Directed by David Armstrong
Choreography by Lorin Latarro
Music Direction & Vocal Arrangements by Joel Fram
Neil Simon Theatre
250 West 52nd Street
Scenic Design: Walt Spangler
Lighting Design: Natasha Katz
Costume Design: Gregory A. Poplyk
Sound Design: Ken Travis
Hair Design: Paul Huntley Enterprises, Inc.
Orchestrations: Bruce Coughlin
Dance & Incidental Music Arrangements: Sam Davis
Additional Vocal Arrangements: Paul Raiman
Music Coordinator: Howard Joines
Production Stage Manager: Amber White
Associate Director: Stephen Sposito
Marketing: Type A Marketing/Anne Rippey
Casting: Tara Rubin Casting
Production Manager: Juniper Street Productions
General Management: Foresight Theatrical/Mark Shacket
Press Agent: Jeremy Shaffer/The Publicity Office
Exec. Producer: Jeffrey Finn
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 20, 2012
Scandalous is a soul-bearing, sin-confessing musical, with book, lyrics, and some music by Kathie Lee Gifford. Additional music is by David Pomeranz and David Friedman. It’s mainly set on descending stark, white stairways in the 1927 Angelus Temple in Los Angeles. Carolee Carmello belts her way through her role in this gospel-bio of the dynamic, yet distraught Aimee Semple McPherson, a Canadian girl, who wants so much more than a stoic, churchgoing rural family.
McPherson discovers the power of evangelical theatrics, from an early love, a preacher from Ireland, Robert Semple (Edward Watts), who marries Aimee and travels to China. During their missionary work, Semple dies from an infectious disease, and Aimee marries twice more, first to McPherson, a bore, and next to a new incarnation of Mr. Watts, an actor/singer in Aimee’s church, who is promptly sued by a recent lover for womanizing. Watts makes a rapid exit, and McPherson makes a rapid descent to hell, with her years-long addiction to drugs and philandering men.
Intertwined in her various life events, McPherson is shown at the start and finale of this show to be on trial for disappearing for weeks from her church, having been originally seen on a California beach. McPherson claims she was kidnapped and escaped, but her relationship with her married radio partner, Kenneth Ormiston (Andrew Samonsky, who doubles as the boring McPherson), drove the 1927 Californians to put her on trial. Also intertwined in McPherson’s home and career was her very strong, yet evolving mother, Minnie Kennedy (Candy Buckley), who became Aimee’s right hand business partner and confidante, a miracle on its own.
Although each star and the chorus had superior vocal talent and charisma, the tunes and lyrics lacked pizzazz. In fact, they sounded like bible school recitals. Ms. Carmello is an artist who needs a new show. She grips the viewer and seizes the stairways, and her resonant tones fill the theater. If only they were different tones. If only they were different words. Some of the numbers were titled “He Will Be My Home”, “You Have a Fire”, “Moses and Pharaoh”, and “What Does It Profit?”. Mr. Watts and Ms. Buckley, as well, should be seen and heard again soon, in drama or music, and they are both compelling on stage. In fact, the women in front orchestra, where I was seated, were ooh-ing and ah-ing, when Mr. Watts reappeared as Adam, bare-chested and blond. George Hearn plays a blander Brother Bob, whose competitive preacher persona is no match for McPherson.
The lightest moments occurred in the church drama parables, with Adam & Eve, Samson & Delilah, Moses & Pharaoh, and The Coconut Grove, all bringing down the house for camp. There were sexual innuendos galore in costumes, gestures, and lyrics. But, not even these numbers could give this show the depth and drama it needed. Walt Spangler’s sets, however, along with Gregory Poplyk’s costumes were splendid and eye-catching, especially the endless stairways and lifts. Lorin Latarro’s choreography was not memorable, but the dancing was entertaining at the moment. David Armstrong did his best with the material at hand. Kudos to the real-life Aimee Semple McPherson, who must have had a more engrossing life story than Scandalous revealed.