×

Saving Aimee

Kathie Lee Gifford has been knocking on the pearly gates of Broadway with "Saving Aimee" since 2007, when the show debuted at Virginia's Signature Theater to mixed reviews.

With:
AimeeCarolee Carmello MinnieJudy Kaye James/Brother BobEd Dixon Asa KeyesCharles Legget McPherson/OrmistonBrandon O'Neill Emma JoRoz Ryan Robert Semple/David HuttonEd Watts

Kathie Lee Gifford has been knocking on the pearly gates of Broadway with “Saving Aimee” since 2007, when the show debuted at Virginia’s Signature Theater to mixed reviews. A musical depiction of the life of early 20th-century evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, it’s now been resurrected by director David Armstrong at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theater. But it appears that in the intervening years no miracles have been worked on either the script or the score, which Gifford co-wrote with David Pomeranz and David Friedman. Despite an inspired performance by Carolee Carmello at its center, the show will require additional laying-on of hands before it’s ready to ascend.

As a subject, “Sister Aimee” McPherson is plenty rich — a fascinating jazz-age prototype of today’s tabloid celebrities. She dabbled in faith healing, married multiple times, pioneered the use of radio and motion pictures to spread the gospel, promoted integration and likely staged her own kidnapping to cover up an affair. The eventfulness of her life presents a challenge to a writer, however: What best serves as the core of the story? Gifford’s strategy seems to be to start at the beginning, when Semple was a girl growing up in Ontario, and race forward, occasionally flashing ahead to the 1926 grand jury that investigated her alleged kidnapping. Characters and relationships cartwheel by; even the sole ongoing conflict — between McPherson and her controlling mother (Judy Kaye) — is seemingly resolved in a flash midway through the show.

The litany of events is especially monotonous in the first act, a situation not helped by either the setting or the score. Walt Spangler’s set, a kind of “Dancing With the Stars”-meets-“Metropolis” flight of stairs rising to a pulpit backed by an onstage band, is dramatic but too static for the first half of the show. And the songs, gospel-style tunes that keep bumping up a key to heighten the drama, are all calibrated at the same over-the-top emotional level. The one song that provides a respite, a bluesy “Girl’s Gotta Do What a Girl’s Gotta Do” delivered by Roz Ryan, belongs to a brothel scene that unfortunately seems extraneous to the plot.

The second act improves, as McPherson’s adventures in Hollywood lend some razzle-dazzle to the proceedings. Set pieces move on and off to represent a nightclub, an office, and a proscenium at McPherson’s Foursquare Church, where lively production numbers are staged. The evangelist’s budding relationship with radio engineer Kenneth Ormiston (Brandon O’Neill) starts out especially promising, leading to a lovely, Tin Pan Alley-sounding ballad. But Ormiston, too, quickly outlives his usefulness to the story and disappears.

The cast members, including O’Neill, Charles Leggett, Ed Watts and others, do a fine job playing multiple roles, including Charlie Chaplin and William Randolph Hearst making appearances along the way). But “Saving Aimee’s” strongest asset by far is Carmello (“The Addams Family,” “Mamma Mia!”), who animates “the P.T. Barnum of the pulpit” with energy and conviction. Appearing in almost every scene in the nearly three-hour show, her clarion voice never flags and as Aimee’s life parades by, she morphs convincingly from headstrong girl to determined star. Whatever skeptics may say of “Saving Aimee” overall, there is no room for doubt when it comes to Carmello’s performance. The ovation she drew at the end of the night made it clear she turned everyone in the theater into true believers.

Musical numbers: “Prelude,” “Stand Up!,” “For Such a Time as This 1,” “Why Can’t I?,” “He Will Be My Home,” “He Will Be My Home (Reprise),” “Oh, the Power,” “That Sweet Lassie from Cork,” “Come Whatever May,” “You’ll Be Safe Here with Me,” “Follow Me,” “A Girl’s Gotta Do What a Girl’s Gotta Do,” “Follow Me (Reprise),” “For Such a Time as This 2,” “Hollywood Aimee 1,” “Adam and Eve,” “Foursquare Hymn/Hollywood Aimee 2,” “Samson and Delilah,” “Hollywood Aimee 3,” “Moses and Pharaoh,” “Hollywood Aimee 4,” “It’s Just You,” “This Time I’ll Blame It on Love,” “Hollywood Aimee 5,” “Lost or Found? / The Trial,” “He Will Be My Home (Reprise),” “Oh, the Power (Reprise),” “I Have a Fire”

Saving Aimee

5th Avenue Theater, Seattle, Wash.; 2,107 seats; $109 top

Production: A 5th Avenue Theater presentation, executive produced by Jeffrey Finn, of a musical in two acts, written by Kathie Lee Gifford. Music by Gifford, David Pomeranz and David Friedman. Directed by David Armstrong. Choreographed by Lorin Latarro. Music director/conductor, Joel Fram. Orchestrations, Bruce Coughlin.

Creative: Sets, Walt Spangler; costumes, Gregory A. Poplyk; lighting, Tom Sturge; sound, Ken Travis; hair and makeup, Mary Pyanowski; associate director, Brandon Ivie; associate choreographer, Sean McKnight; casting, Tara Rubin Casting. Opened and reviewed Oct. 20, 2011; runs through Oct. 29. Running time: 2 HOURS, 50 MIN.

Cast: AimeeCarolee Carmello MinnieJudy Kaye James/Brother BobEd Dixon Asa KeyesCharles Legget McPherson/OrmistonBrandon O'Neill Emma JoRoz Ryan Robert Semple/David HuttonEd WattsWith: Charissa Bertel, Jared Michael Brown, Christian Duhamel, Richard Gray, Cayman Ilika, Corinna Lapid-Munter, Cheryl Massey-Peters, Heath Saunders, Aaron Shanks, Tim Shew, Mara Solar, Billie Wildrick, Matt Wolfe.

More Legit

  • Because of Winn Dixie review

    Regional Theater Review: 'Because of Winn Dixie,' the Musical

    Watching the musical “Because of Winn Dixie” at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Conn., it’s hard not to think of another show that premiered in the same regional theater 43 years ago. It, too, featured a scruffy stray dog, a lonely-but-enterprising young girl and a closed-off daddy who finally opens up. But “Winn Dixie,” based [...]

  • MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOWby

    Off Broadway Review: 'Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow'

    There’s something about Anton Chekhov’s whiny sisters that invites comic sendups of “Three Sisters” like the one Halley Feiffer wrote on commission for the Williamstown Theater Festival. Transferred to MCC Theater’s new Off Broadway space and playing in the round in a black box with limited seating capacity, the crafty show feels intimate and familiar. [...]

  • the way she spoke review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Way She Spoke' With Kate del Castillo

    Since the 1990s, scores of women in Juarez, Mexico have been mutilated, raped, and murdered at such a rate that some have called it an epidemic of femicide—killing women and girls solely because they are women. Isaac Gomez’s play “the way she spoke,” produced Off Broadway by Audible and starring Kate del Castillo, confronts the [...]

  • HBO's 'SUCCESSION

    Brian Cox Playing LBJ in Broadway Run of 'The Great Society'

    Brian Cox will play President Lyndon Johnson in the Broadway run of “The Great Society,” playwright Robert Schenkkan’s follow-up to “All the Way.” The role of Johnson, a crude, but visionary politician who used the office of the presidency to pass landmark civil rights legislation and social programs, was originally played by Bryan Cranston in [...]

  • Paul McCartney Has Penned Score for

    Paul McCartney Has Been Secretly Writing an 'It's a Wonderful Life' Musical

    The pop superstar who once released a movie and album called “Give My Regards to Broad Street” really does have designs on Broadway, after all. It was revealed Wednesday that Paul McCartney has already written a song score for a stage musical adaptation of the 1946 Frank Capra film classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The [...]

  • The Night of the Iguana review

    West End Review: 'The Night of the Iguana' With Clive Owen

    If Tennessee Williams is the poet laureate of lost souls, none of his characters as are off-grid as the restless travelers trying to make it through his little-seen 1961 play, “The Night of the Iguana.” Holed up in a remote Mexican homestay, its ragtag itinerants live hand-to-mouth, day by day, as they seek refuge from [...]

  • Moulin Rouge Broadway

    Listen: The Special Sauce in Broadway's 'Moulin Rouge!'

    There are songs in the new Broadway version of “Moulin Rouge!” that weren’t in Baz Luhrmann’s hit movie — but you probably know them anyway. They’re popular tunes by superstars like Beyoncé, Adele and Rihanna, released after the 2001 movie came out, and they’ll probably unleash a flood of memories and associations in every audience [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content