The show, with some 20 songs by David Friedman and David Pomeranz, has changed its name over the years _ “Hurricane Aimee” and “Saving Aimee” were both abandoned and now it’s “Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson.” It comes to Broadway after a production in Seattle. Now in previews, it will open Nov. 15 at the Neil Simon Theatre.
Gifford previously supplied the book, lyrics and some of the music to “Under the Bridge,” an adaptation of a children’s book that made its off-Broadway debut in 2005. This time, only one song that’s entirely Gifford’s has made the cut _ one she laughingly calls the “Dirty Irish Drinking Song.”
Carmello, who recently played Mother Superior in “Sister Act,” finds herself playing another person of faith, an odd twist for an actress who is an atheist. But McPherson intrigues Carmello.
“I admire people who feel passionately about anything _ someone who devotes their life to painting or devotes their life to bowling, whatever it is,” she says. “If you feel that strongly about something and you follow it to the nth degree, that’s brilliant because so many people in this world kind of wander around.”
Though one of the lead producers of “Scandalous” is the Foursquare Foundation, which is affiliated with McPherson’s church, Gifford insists the church has had no input in the story or music.
“They have absolutely no say _ no producer has any say _ in terms of content. None,” she says. Gifford says she was even surprised when they signed on. “If you ask their church, I think you would say that more than half the people aren’t happy about this. We don’t whitewash Amy’s story.”
Indeed, the musical opens with McPherson on trial for perjury and doesn’t flinch at exposing her messier moments. Gifford says it’s a musical about someone who was able to heal others while spiraling out of control.
“She had her hypocritical moments, as we all do, but to just dismiss her as a phony is wrong,” says Gifford. “In our culture today, we tend to dismiss any person of faith as either an idiot or a phony. That’s as ugly to me as homophobia or racism. It’s really unfair. There are deeply sincere people in every faith.”
And despite the rough patches in the remarkable life of McPherson, Gifford sees a moral for us all.
“There’s a message for people who feel hopeless right now, that have screwed up their lives, that have made a mess of things and are ready to give up,” she says. “There is hope, there is hope.”
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