Kathie Lee Gifford has spoken and written with some eloquence about issues of faith, whether it be in defense of her own born-again Christian beliefs, or someone else’s faith, be they Jewish, Buddhist or what have you. That eloquence shows up sometimes in her musical, Scandalous – based on the life of Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944), the world’s first media celebrity evangelist. Unfortunately, it doesn’t show up reliably in this wildly uneven show.
Gifford is an above average lyricist, though certainly not a great one – her imagery is evocative, but her rhyming’s often awkward, especially in an embarrassing approximation of an Irish jig. Set in the 1920s, mostly in Los Angeles, Scandalous traces McPherson’s rise to fame, and the scandal that dogs her once she’s achieved it. Gifford has McPherson onstage for the vast majority of the show, making it a genuine star turn for Carolee Carmello, who walks the fine line between genuine charisma and out-and-out camp, much as McPherson did.
Though McPherson was a fascinating personality, that personality only comes across in Scandalous in fits and starts. Gifford’s bookwriting is just this side of formulaic, not empty of insight, but not deeply revelatory, either. Composers David Pomeranz and David Friedman put in journeyman work here – nothing really memorable, but several numbers are rousing, and their songs mostly find the appropriate tone for the moment. It bears saying that they don’t even attempt 1920s style, opting instead for a vaguely contemporary musical theatre style.
Scandalous isn’t quite mediocre, it’s better-made and smarter than that. It’s consistently disappointing – you can see the potential for a really great show here, and perhaps even the talent to make that show. It just isn’t actually that show.
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