Scandalous: Review Roundup

Carolee Carmello

The new Broadway musical Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson has opened to rave reviews for leading actress Carolee Carmello but negative notices for the overall production. The creative team includes Kathie Lee Gifford (book, lyrics), David Pomeranz and David Friedman (music), David Armstrong (direction), Lorin Latarro (choreography), Joel Fram (music direction), Walt Spangler (sets), Gregory A. Poplyk (costumes), Natasha Katz (lights), Ken Travis (sound), Paul Huntley (hair), and Bruce Coughlin (orchestrations). The cast includes Carolee Carmello (Aimee Semple McPherson), Candy Buckley (Minnie Kennedy), Edward Watts (Robert Semple, David Hutton), Roz Ryan (Emma Jo Schaeffer), Andrew Samonsky (Harold McPherson Kenneth Ormiston) and George Hearn (James Kennedy, Brother Bob).

Suzy Evans (Back Stage): Carmello is performing miracles … delivering one of the season’s must-see performances (she’s onstage for all but 11 minutes of the show’s two-and-a-half hours). Unfortunately, Carmello’s miracle work doesn’t extend to Gifford’s flimsy, expository musical, which features uncertain direction by David Armstrong. … Gifford’s book and lyrics sound like she transcribed McPherson’s Wikipedia page and had it set to music. … When Carmello sings, there’s magic in the theater, even if David Pomeranz and David Friedman’s tunes are generic. … There is absolutely no doubt that Carmello is a Broadway superhero.

Charles Isherwood (N.Y. Times): Scandalous … condenses and rearranges McPherson’s story to fit smoothly into the familiar grooves of celebrity biography. In the process the show reduces McPherson’s remarkable life to a cliché-bestrewn fable about the wages of fame. … Scandalous isn’t so much scandalously bad as it is generic and dull. … Ms. Carmello, a gloriously gifted singing actress, has never managed to snag a star-making breakout role on Broadway – not all that surprising in these difficult days for musical theater. Sister Aimee certainly provides plenty of opportunities for Ms. Carmello to thrill us with the purity and power of her voice. … What she cannot do – no singer without the power of miracle could – is bring distinction to songs that never rise above the serviceable.

Michael Musto (Village Voice): Act One is filled with way too many bombastic songs – basically one musical breakdown after another for the lady evangelist – but there’s fire there, and some kind of electricity that reminded me of the better bits from Carrie the Musical. And Broadway favorite Carolee Carmello is committed and powerful in the role of Aimee. … But Act Two is a mess. It’s alternately campy and dull, featuring a stock black character and ending with one more screechy number. The lavish set involves a white stairway to heaven that Scandalous might well end up ascending, if the reviews are bad. But though the show does slide into a pit of absurdity, it would be scandalous to say it’s all just junk. Good for lyricist and book writer Kathie Lee Gifford for stretching with something this ambitious.

Andy Propst (Theater Mania): My purpose is to warn theatergoers off of this woefully undercooked bio-tuner. It’s genuinely unfortunate that Scandalous inspires this sort of reaction. Aimee’s real-life story has all the elements of a potentially engrossing night at the theater. … But the creators consistently undermine Aimee’s tale. First there’s Kathie Lee Gifford’s by-the-numbers book and schmaltzy lyrics. Composers David Pomeranz and David Friedman, abetted by Gifford (who’s supplied additional music), only make matters worse with a generic, bombastic score. Director David Armstrong’s lackluster staging only underscores the mediocrity of the writing. The one person who is certainly not at fault in the musical’s failings is Carmello. She delivers a passionate and rousingly sung performance at every turn.

Steve Suksin (Variety): Carolee Carmello does everything she can to breathe life into this bio-musical of forgotten celeb Aimee Semple McPherson, aka Sister Aimee, but no amount of proselytizing is likely to convert Gothamites. … To its credit, Scandalous doesn’t try to whitewash its heroine’s life … but the book never offers more than a by-the-numbers outline of the life of Sister Aimee. … Gifford, who is credited with additional music along with the book and lyrics, does not impress in her several capacities. … Armstrong’s direction is pageant-like and aimless, and sabotaged by designer Walt Spangler’s scenery. … [Carmello] is hard-working and the resultant performance is admirable, but the material doesn’t allow the actress or Scandalous to be convincing.

Linda Winer (Newsday): There is nothing remotely scandalous about Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson. … It is well-produced and professional. It’s also not interesting, alas, at least not interesting enough to sustain 2-1/2 hours of fast-forward storytelling and inspirational songs that almost always end in throbbing climax. At least as problematic is the bombardment of nursery-rhyme lyrics … but we have a reason to give thanks, and that is Carolee Carmello. One of our most deeply wonderful, inexplicably underutilized singing actors, Carmello finally gets a giant vehicle that needs her massive talents. … Despite the monotony of the touch-what-you-dream songs, Carmello alone makes Aimee’s journey feel as adventurous as it clearly was.

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