The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson

Neil Simon Theatre, (11/15/2012 - 12/09/2012)

First Preview: Oct 13, 2012
Opening Date: Nov 15, 2012
Closing Date: Dec 09, 2012
Total Previews: 31
Total Performances: 29

Category: Musical, Drama, Original, Broadway

Opening Night Production Staff

Theatre Owned / Operated by The Nederlander Organization (James M. Nederlander: Chairman; James L. Nederlander: President)

Produced by Betsy & Dick DeVos, Foursquare Foundation, Cantinas Ranch Foundation and The Stand Up Group; Produced in association with The 5th Avenue Theatre (David Armstrong, Executive Producer and Artistic Director; Bernadine Griffin, Managing Director; Bill Berry, Producing Director)

Originally produced by The Signature Theatre (Eric Schaeffer, Artistic Director)

Book by Kathie Lee Gifford; Music by David Pomeranz and David Friedman; Additional music by Kathie Lee Gifford; Lyrics by Kathie Lee Gifford; Music orchestrated by Bruce Coughlin; Vocal arrangements by Joel Fram; Incidental music arrangements by Sam Davis; Dance arrangements by Sam Davis; Additional Vocal Arrangements by Paul Raiman; Musical Director: Joel Fram

Directed by David Armstrong; Choreographed by Lorin Latarro; Associate Director: Stephen Sposito; Associate Choreographer: Barrett Martin

Scenic Design by Walt Spangler; Costume Design by Gregory A. Poplyk; Lighting Design by Natasha Katz; Sound Design by Ken Travis; Hair Design by Paul Huntley Enterprises, Inc.; Make-Up Design by Angelina Avallone; Associate Costume Design: Sara Jean Tosetti; Associate Lighting Design: Peter Hoerburger and Aaron Spivey; Associate Sound Design: Tony Smolenski IV

Executive Producer: Jeffrey Finn; General Manager: Alan Wasser, Allan Williams and Mark D. Shacket; Company Manager: Cathy Kwon; Associate Co. Mgr: Daniel Hoyos

Production Manager: Juniper Street Productions; Production Stage Manager: Amber White; Stage Manager: Kevin Bertolacci

Musical Coordinator: Howard Joines; Conducted by Joel Fram; Associate Conductor/Keyboard 1: Alvin Hough; Assistant Conductor/Keyboard 2: Matt Perri; Violin: Hiroko Taguchi; Cello: Summer Boggess; Reeds: Vito Chiavuzzo, Greg Thymius and Jacqueline Henderson; Trumpets: Matthew Peterson and Jeff Wilfore; French Horn: Will de Vos; Bass Trombone: Jennifer Wharton; Bass: Brian Hamm; Percussion: Billy Miller; Music Copying: Kaye-Houston Music; Keyboard Programming: Synthlink LLC

Dance Captain: Karen Hyland; Fight direction by Ron Piretti; Press Representative: Jeremy Shaffer and The Publicity Office; Advertising: Serino Coyne; Marketing: Type A Marketing and Anne Rippey; Digital Outreach and Website: Serino Coyne; Marketing Director: Thomas Mygatt; Casting: Tara Rubin Casting; Photographer: Jeremy Daniel

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Opening Night Cast

Carolee CarmelloAimee Semple McPherson
George HearnJames Kennedy
Brother Bob
Candy BuckleyMinnie Kennedy
Roz RyanEmma Jo Schaeffer
Andrew SamonskyHarold McPherson
Kenneth Ormiston
Edward WattsRobert Semple
David Hutton
Nick CartellEnsemble
Joseph DellgerMayor Cryer
William Randolph Hearst
Erica DorflerEnsemble
Carlos L. EnciniasEnsemble
Hannah FlorenceEnsemble
Benjamin HowesAsa Keyes
Alison LuffCoconut Girl
Peggy Rae Wharton
Jesse NagerEnsemble
Sam StrasfeldCharlie Chaplin
Betsy StruxnessCoconut Girl
Elizabeth Ward LandLouise
Louella Parsons
Billie WildrickCoconut Girl
Dan'yelle WilliamsonEnsemble
Matt WolfeEnsemble

Swings: Corey Greenan and Karen Hyland

Understudies: Nick Cartell (David Hutton, Harold McPherson, Kenneth Ormiston, Robert Semple), Joseph Dellger (Brother Bob, James Kennedy), Erica Dorfler (Emma Jo Schaeffer), Corey Greenan (David Hutton, Robert Semple), Benjamin Howes (Harold McPherson, Kenneth Ormiston), Alison Luff (Aimee Semple McPherson), Elizabeth Ward Land (Minnie Kennedy ), Billie Wildrick (Aimee Semple McPherson), Dan'yelle Williamson (Emma Jo Schaeffer) and Matt Wolfe (Brother Bob, James Kennedy)

Awards and Nominations

Tony Award®

 2013 Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical [nominee] 

Carolee Carmello

Drama Desk Award

 2013 Outstanding Actress in a Musical [nominee] 

Carolee Carmello


ACT 1 Sung By
Stand Up
(music by David Pomeranz, David Friedman and Kathie Lee Gifford)
Aimee and Ensemble
Minnie's PrayerMinnie
Why Can't I?Aimee
He Will Be My HomeRobert and Aimee
Come Whatever MayRobert and Aimee
He Will Be My Home (Reprise) Robert, Aimee, James and Minnie
That Sweet Lassie From CorkEnsemble
Come Whatever May (Reprise) Robert, Aimee and Ensemble
How Could You?Aimee
You Have a FireAimee and James
Minnie's Prayer (Reprise) Minnie
Follow Me (Part 1)Aimee and Ensemble
A Girl's Gotta Do What a Girl's Gotta DoEmma Jo and Girls
Follow Me (Part 2)Aimee and Ensemble
For Such a Tume As ThisAimee and Ensemble
ACT 2 Sung By
Hollywood AimeeReporters
Adam and EveAimee, David and Eve
Foursquare MarchAimee and Ensemble
Samson and DelilhaAimee, David and Ensemble
Hollywood Aimee (Reprise) Reporters
Moses and PharaohAimee, David, Emma Jo and Ensemble
Demon in a DressBrother Bob and Ensemble
It's Just YouKenneth and David
The Coconut GroveThe Lovely Coconuts, Louella and Reporters
No Other ChoiceMinnie
Hollywood Aimee (Reprise) Ensemble
Lost or Found?Aimee, Asa and Ensemble
What Does It Profit?Aimee
I Have a FireAimee and Ensemble


AP: "Kathie Lee Gifford's 'Scandalous' sins"

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.

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?’’

They’re not needed, mainly because Gifford ladles out huge chunks of exposition as if we can’t be trusted to follow the tale. (Sample statement from the heroine: ‘‘I'm going to take everything they’re using in Hollywood to build the Devil’s Kingdom and I'm going to use it to build God's. I'm going to give the people what they want while I'm giving them what they need.")

Director David Armstrong has apparently decided to allow this grotesque mockery of a musical to go on unedited. That explains why, instead of one illustrated sermon, we get two. And why McPherson’s trial goes on longer than most real court cases. One scene has McPherson doing a 400-word monologue.

Oddly, the songs and the book seem written by two different people since they step on each other’s toes so much, usually when one repeats what the other just said.

Armstrong also has allowed some of the most unsubtle dialogue ever heard to clang on stage. ‘‘I cannot ignore the voice of God. Wherever it leads me,’’ says McPherson to her mother.

‘‘Even if it means losing your mother?’’ her mother (a valiant Candy Buckley) asks, quivering, of course.

‘‘Come whatever may,’’ her daughter replies.

George Hearn, who plays McPherson’s father and later a rival preacher, is excellent and deserves better material. But not enough can be said about Carmello, who throws all she’s got into this. On opening night, a metal hook connected to a section of fabric became stuck onstage and it was Carmello — of course — who came to the rescue.

Pity she couldn’t rescue herself from this unholy work.


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