The new musical “Scandalous” isa first-time effort by Kathie Lee Epstein Gifford. Known and loved as Regis Philbin's sidekick on an early morning television show, she left to pursue a dream and has worked on this project for twelve years. It took Rodgers and Hammerstein only a year or two to write each of their most masterful creations, so we have to wonder what went on during those twelve years?! Kathie Lee has provided the Book, Lyrics & Additional Music, while David Pomeranz and David Friedman are responsible for the Music, which except for the first song, “Stand Up,” in Act I and “Hollywood Annie,” sung by Reporters that leads off Act II, is all pretty standard fare.
“Scandalous” is the real story of Aimee Semple McPherson, who was born in 1890 and rose from a poor Canadian farm girl to a world famous Pentacostal preacher. Carolee Carmello, a competent actress and singer, is the lady in question; she does a nice job in the beginning portraying the rebellious daughter of an impossibly strict Salvation Army mother, Minnie Kennedy (an annoying Candy Buckely), and a kindlier dad, played by George Hearn! Yes, the award-wining George Hearn, who was the star of” LaCages Aux Folles” and “Sweeney Todd.” In the first act, he's James Kennedy in a grey wig. The other part he plays is Brother Bob, a pastor representing all those who think Aimee is putting on a carnival show and wants her to stop. At 78, Hearn's voice is still remarkably strong and it was good to see him on stage.
Aimee Kennedy, only a teenager, meets tall, handsome, dark-haired Robert Semple, who believes in miracles. Edward Watts is charismatic in the role of this preacher who sweeps Aimee and others off their feet. We were sad to see him go, as he dies early on in China from malaria, leaving Aimee pregnant with a daughter. But fear not! Watts returns as David Hutton, muscle bound and blond, a performer in Sister Aimee's tacky biblical shows, portraying heroes like Samson. Aimee’s marriage to this con man is short-lived. In between, she marries an accountant, Harold McPherson, depicted by Andrew Samofsky, whom we only glimpse in the dark; (they have a son, Rolf, who takes over Aimee's church after she dies at the age of 55 from an accidental drug overdose.) Divorced from Harold, Aimee decides to get rid of her tents and build a permanent Four Square church in LA. It is a tremendous success. The first to use radio as a medium for communication, she also has an affair with her radio guy, Kenneth Ormiston, played by the bright-eyed - you guessed it - Andrew Samofsky. There is also a chapter where she upsets everyone by disappearing for some time, claims to have been kidnapped and returns. Somehow all of this is unexciting—not scandalous!
On Wolf Spangler's stage set of majestic white pillars lit dramatically by Natasha Katz, Carmello screams her way through the score, her voice growing more and more shrill, as she sings the songs that all end in crescendos. She has missed a few performances and I hope she does not injure her vocal chords permanently. We would be remiss if we did not mention Roz Ryan, who as Emma Jo, a Madame who is saved by Aimee, lends an earthy, energetic, humorous tone to this otherwise bland production directed by David Armstrong.
“Scandalous”-- a musical too earnest for its own good, reminds us of “Leap of Faith.” At the Neil Simon Theatre.