Review: Kathie Lee Gifford's 'Scandalous' sins
This theater image released by The Publicity Office shows Carolee Carmello, center, during a performance of the musical "Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson," at the Neil Simon Theatre in New York. (AP Photo/The Publicity Office, Jeremy Daniel)
NEW YORK (AP) — There's not much Carolee Carmello doesn't do in her new Broadway musical.
The Tony Award-nominated actress ages 20 years and spends much of it dressed like a nurse, except the time when she's dressed like a naughty Biblical Delilah. She belts out terrible song after terrible song. She faces off against the Ku Klux Klan, hands out roses to the audience and endures a rain of fake frogs.
But try as she might — and Carmello was ordered by a physician to be put on vocal rest the day before its opening night — nothing can save her "Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson," a musical as overstuffed and uninspired as its title suggests.
An endless — 2 1/2 hours, but seemingly longer — biography of the controversial 1920s-era Pentecostal evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, the musical has a book and lyrics by TV host Kathie Lee Gifford, who proves she's not going to give up her day job anytime soon. Music by David Pomeranz and David Friedman is almost absurd, linking one overwrought tune to another and then stuffing in another. Airport waiting lounges have better piped in music.
The tale of McPherson is something of Gifford's Moby Dick, a project she's been writing for a dozen years. The preacher is certainly a fascinating figure: She was a pioneer in radio evangelism who incorporated vaudeville elements in her sermons, considered the P.T. Barnum of the pulpit.
She fed millions during the Great Depression, but also had a mysterious five-week disappearance in 1926 that many believed was a fling with a married man. She died of a drug overdose in 1944.
This image released by Starpix shows, from left, Frank Gifford, Cody Gifford, Cassidy Gifford, and Kathie Lee Gifford on opening night of Kathie Lee's musical "Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson," at the Neil Simon Theatre, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012 in New York. (AP Photo/Starpix, Andrew Toth)
But what opened Thursday at the Neil Simon Theatre is insipid and patronizing, a work that seems more at home in a church parking lot than on Broadway. The most aggravating thing is, at the end, the audience is no closer to understanding what really motivated McPherson at all.
Gifford, a proud Christian, says she's written a warts-and-all portrait, but don't believe it: It's pure hagiography, except when it veers into camp, an endearing Gifford quality. (Sample lyric from the ensemble when McPherson disappears: "Lost or found?/Is she lost at sea/or just fooling around?")
It's also got all the stereotypes you'd expect these days — a sassy black lady (Roz Ryan, still winning despite the sins), blissful tambourine bangers and old timey reporters yelling out questions like, "The miracles. How do you do it?"