Review Roundup: SCANDALOUS Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!
Featuring book and lyrics by Kathie Lee Gifford and music by David Pomeranz and David Friedman, Scandalous began performances at Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre (250 W. 52nd St.) on October 13, 2012. Opening Night is tonight, November 15th.
SCANDALOUS stars two-time Tony Award nominee Carolee Carmello (Sister Act, Mamma Mia, Parade) as Aimee Semple McPherson, two-time Tony Award winner George Hearn (Sunset Blvd., La Cage aux Folles, Sweeney Todd) as James Kennedy and Brother Bob, Candy Buckley as Minnie Kennedy, Edward Watts (Finian's Rainbow) as Robert Semple and David Hutton, Roz Ryan (Chicago, Dreamgirls) as Emma Jo Schaeffer andAndrew Samonsky as Harold McPherson and Kenneth Ormiston.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: “The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson,” as the show is subtitled, are actually much more fascinating than you would gather from this formulaic Broadway musical...“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. She leads a few rousing come-to-Jesus gospel-tinged numbers with bright-beaming intensity. She delivers the climactic soul-baring ballad with plenty of emotional heat. What she cannot do — no singer without the power of miracle could — is bring distinction to songs that never rise above the serviceable.
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: But Scandalous — which features a fine cast led by stage veteran Carolee Carmello and vigorously directed by David Armstrong — has many lighter, brighter moments, as well as something rarer in contemporary musicals: the courage of its sincerity. Gifford and co-composers David Pomeranz and David Friedman have crafted a two-hour-plus journey that neither wallows in its self-importance nor looks down its nose at the quaint folks it chronicles.
Steve Suskin, Variety: Picking up where "Leap of Faith" left off, "Scandalous" is another big-budget, evangelist-with-feet-of-clay tale from the hinterlands, and despite various prior incarnations, it looks woefully out of place on a Broadway stage. Thesp Carolee Carmello ("Parade") 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. The composer, lyricist, librettist, director, choreographer and producers are all Broadway first-timers; so much for beginner's luck.
Linda Winer, Newsday: There is nothing remotely scandalous about "Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson," the biographical musical that has book, lyrics and additional music by Kathie Lee Gifford. Despite the inevitable celebrity-lite target on Gifford's back, the musical about the media-star Christian evangelist of the 1920s does not have the toxic aura of a vanity production. 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…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.
Keith Staskiewicz, Entertainment Weekly: Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson...may not have a firm grasp on whether its subject was a heroically crusading woman of God or a hypocritical mountebank, but one thing's for certain: She sure was a grand ol' gal! That seems to be the main theme of Kathie Lee Gifford's script, and it works in part. The songs...provide emotional and plot development that help keep the story moving at a quick clip...David Armstrong's direction flows effortlessly from one episode in McPherson's life to the next with minimal hiccups, and Carolee Carmello gives a charismatic performance in the lead, belting out her numbers like a one-woman church choir...The scandal of the title is given surprisingly short shrift...It's a complex story filled with a lot of knotty issues, but much of the nuance gets glossed over in this production, overstuffed as it is with other, less fascinating anecdotes, like a lengthy introductory sequence about her early life as a Canadian farm girl. Still, Scandalous has enough high energy and witty lines to help to atone for some of its sins. B–
Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Kathie Lee Gifford's musical about evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson is too bombastic for its own good.
Brendan Lemon, Financial Times: Neither a must-see juicy disaster (that might have required Gifford herself to inhabit the primary role) nor a surprising, damn-the-critics success, Scandalous features a tremendously hard-working ensemble and a tremendously hard-working star: Carolee Carmello, as Aimee. Walt Spangler’s diamond-shard Art Deco set glitters, David Armstrong directs with some flair, and I have never seen such a display of hallelujah hands outside a gospel church service.
Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg: The songs are nearly all ear drum-shattering anthems as Aimee turns sinners into believers across the Roaring Twenties. There is no discernible point of view in evidence about any of this. For a show about an evangelical, “Scandalous” is oddly devoid of the words Jesus Christ -- an indication, perhaps, that the authors didn’t want to rub the Broadway audience’s collective face in too much of that, you know, religious stuff. “Scandalous” is as ecumenically innocuous as it is pointless.
Robert Feldberg, NorthJersey.com: So, although Carmello, who's onstage for almost the entire evening, gives a knock-out performance, pulling off gospel numbers and novelty songs with equal mastery, her character remains remote. The score, with music by David Pomeranz and David Friedman, is serviceable, and often performed very loudly. Welcome contributions are made by the amusing Roz Ryan, playing a Kansas City madam turned McPherson assistant, and George Hearn, as the evangelist's sweet-natured father. But "Scandalous," despite its title, is remarkably tame.
Michael Musto, The Village Voice: Broadway's new Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson might sound like a female Leap of Faith, but it's actually Chaplin The Musical with girls' clothes...But Scandalous is a way more schizo show…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…Act Two is a mess. It's alternately campy and dull, featuring a stock black character and ending with one more screechy number…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.
Suzy Evans, Backstage: When Carmello sings, there’s magic in the theater, even if David Pomeranz and David Friedman’s tunes are generic (Gifford also gets a credit for “additional music”). Joel Fram’s music direction and vocal arrangements, though, are an absolute delight. The revival scenes feel like a religious experience, thanks to a winning ensemble and Lorin Latarro’s peppy choreography. Puzzlingly, set designer Walt Spangler’s clunky white altar staircase never leaves the stage. (There has to be wing space at the Simon, right? Why would there be an altar on the farm where Aimee grew up?) The entire cast is fantastic. Roz Ryan gives Carmello some scene-stealing breaks as brothel owner–turned–revival assistant Emma Jo Schaeffer. Candy Buckley fills the bill as Aimee’s overbearing mother, and Edward Watts believably morphs into two characters, husband Robert and love interest David Hutton.
David Cote, Time Out NY: I have seen worse shows than Scandalous (Good Vibrations and The Pirate Queen were more painful to sit through), but few as wild-eyed and zealously wrongheaded. Carolee Carmello’s strident, belt-first-ask-questions-later approach to McPherson leaves very little room for subtlety or growth. We follow the evangelist from a repressive childhood in Canada (she loves Shakespeare; Mom thumps the Bible) through early, failed attempts to preach on street corners to her evolution into the head of a media-savvy evangelism empire.
Matt Windman, AM New York: The Tony Award for fearless determination - if such a thing actually existed, ought to go to Kathie Lee Gifford. She has been developing and promoting her musical "Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson" - for which she wrote the lyrics, book and even some of the music - for more than a decade…"Scandalous" is like a combination of "Leap of Faith," another musical about an evangelist, which flopped last spring, and "Chaplin," also a bland bio musical...The score - the work of no less than three composers - mainly consists of generic samplings from various genres: Irish jig, beer hall anthem, tambourine-shaking prayer and so on…Carolee Carmello, who has spent the past few years alternating between the tryouts of "Scandalous" and stints in "Mamma Mia!," throws all of her dramatic and vocal intensity into the role, but it is an off-putting, aggressive performance.