The best thing about “Scandalous,” Kathie Lee Gifford‘s Broadway play, is that it represents dreams realized.
Gifford long wanted to make this musical about evangelist preacher Aimee Semple McPherson. Gifford wrote the book, the lyrics and some of the music, and has used her host spot on “Today” to promote it.
I suppose we should be happy when someone works so hard and for so long, then achieves that goal.
Though seeing her dream come to fruition may be grand for her, that’s not the case for anyone who enters the Neil Simon Theatre. This is so cliched and amateurish, you half expect the curtain to fall and the school principal to come out on stage, thank the teachers who stayed after school to make this play happen and ask for a round of applause for the woodworking class for crafting the sets.
“Scandalous” is painfully dull and a squandering of an interesting story and talented cast. The musical tries to follow the Broadway rule of big numbers, and though there are big voices — notably Roz Ryan (Broadway’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” TV’s “Barbershop”) — there is not one song you want to hear again. Ever.
Sister Aimee, as she was known, had a fascinating life, became the first female mega preacher and affected millions, and her legacy continues today. That is the stuff from which a great musical could be made.
Born on a farm in Canada to an ambitious, narrowly religious 17-year-old, Minnie (Candy Buckley, Broadway’s “Cabaret,” TV’s “Treme”) and her older but nicer husband, James (George Hearn, Broadway’s “Sunset Boulevard,” TV’s “Law & Order: SVU”), Aimee was drawn toward Hollywood.
Carolee Carmello plays Aimee as a schoolgirl until her death at 54. It’s not a convincing transition. Carmello (Broadway’s “Sister Act,” TV’s “Frasier”) has a rich, gorgeous voice and does all she can with instantly forgettable lyrics.
Aimee falls in love with a handsome, charming itinerant Pentecostal preacher, Robert Semple (Edward Watts, Broadway’s “Finian’s Rainbow,” TV’s “Rescue Me”). Like many in the cast, he plays dual roles, and in his case that’s her first and third husbands.
The goofiest numbers are of Bible stories, but there is a reason behind these because Sister Aimee brought the stories to life in her sermons. The song-and-dance number where Moses (played by Ryan) tells the pharaoh to free the slaves could become a camp classic, but not in any good way. The chorus includes the line: “Let my people go – oy!”
Given some of the truly unbearable musicals that have managed to get to Broadway, this may not even rank. It is nowhere near as much of an assault on the senses as last year’s “Ghost: The Musical” or jaw-droppingly awful as “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”
The surprise here is how “Scandalous” can take such an interesting life and sap the lifeblood from it. How this manages to make boring the travails of a woman preacher, hell bent on saving souls while popping pills, taking lovers and husbands and standing up to bully preachers while reforming Los Angeles and setting the stage for the 20th century evangelical movement, is the real miracle here.
Ultimately, “Scandalous” is beyond redemption.