Sunday, December 2, 2012

In 'Scandalous: The Life And Trials,' Aimee's Side of Tale


those in the limelight, fame can be very fickle.

In “Scandalous: The Life And Trials Of Aimee Semple McPherson,” in an open run at the Neil Simon Theatre, one woman’s celebrity made her as many enemies as it did friends.

Aimee Semple McPherson (Carolee Carmello) built a successful business preaching the gospel in the resplendent Angelus Temple in Hollywood. She was a darling of the press and counted Charlie Chaplin (Sam Strasfeld), William Randolph Hearst (Joseph Dellger) and Louella Parsons (Elizabeth Ward Land) among her fans. (See video above.)

Suddenly, Aimee’s popularity turned into notoriety. In 1927, she found herself in an Los Angeles court on a morals charge.

Kathie Lee Gifford’s (book and lyrics) “Scandalous: The Life And Trials Of Aimee Semple McPherson,” based on actual events, is a musical that wants to tell Aimee side of the story. In it, Aimee recounts her life history from farm girl to renowned preacher.

All her life, Aimee flaunted convention. She was an avowed atheist in her mother, Minnie Kennedy’s (Candy Buckley) pious home. She married a missionary Robert Semple (Edward Watts) and went off to China with him. Ambition drove her to establish a church of her own. At the height of her career her sermons were heard coast to coast on the radio.

Pastor Aimee (Carolee Carmello, center) raising the roof in “Scandalous: The Life And Trials Of Aimee Semple McPherson.” Photos by Jeremy Daniel.

Her involvement with both the married Kenneth Ormiston (Andrew Samonsky), who engineered her radio program and a shady member of her retinue, David Hutton (EW in a second role) turned her life upside down. The envy of her pastoral rival, Brother Bob (George Hearn), fueled the gossip that lead to her trial.

In the substantial cast of “Scandalous: The Life And Trials Of Aimee Semple McPherson,” there are some standouts. Roz Ryan as Emma Jo Schaeffer, a madam who becomes Aimee’s right hand, is one. EW as two of Aimee’s husbands is another. He is handsome and charismatic as Robert Semple and sleazy and disreputable as David Hutton.

The period costumes by Gregory A. Paplyk are beautiful and elegant. Walt Spangler’s sets are well designed and serviceable.

Carolee Carmello and company in “Scandalous: The Life And Trials Of Aimee Semple McPherson.”

The singing in Aimee’s evangelistic church should be exuberant and lively. Instead, the songs (music by David Pomeranz and David Friedman, with additional music and lyrics by KLG) are mostly flat. The one exception is “How Could You?,” Aimee’s challenge to God. It bristles with energy.

Despite its lavish production values and eccentric subject, “Scandalous: The Life And Trials Of Aimee Semple McPherson” is a tepid show.

Visit for more information about “Scandalous: The Life And Trials Of Aimee Semple McPherson.”

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