Kathie Lee & Carolee & Aimee: A Scandalous Tale of Heroine Worship

By Brandon Voss
20 Oct 2012

Kathie Lee Gifford
Kathie Lee Gifford
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Writer Kathie Lee Gifford and star Carolee Carmello praise Aimee Semple McPherson, the controversial subject of the Broadway bio-musical Scandalous.

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As anyone who knows her from morning television can attest, Kathie Lee Gifford has an eye-opening anecdote for every occasion. Today, the "Today" co-host is delightfully oversharing over lunch at Sardi's. "My dad always used to tell me, 'Honey, find something you love to do and then figure out a way to get paid for it,'" she recalls, sipping a glass of white wine. "Now I've done everything in this business but porn, and at this point I doubt there would be any offers."

Perhaps less salacious than skin flicks, Gifford's latest showbiz gig is as book writer and lyricist for Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson, a long-gestating musical about the world's first superstar evangelist. With music by David Friedman and David Pomeranz and direction by David Armstrong, Scandalous opens Nov. 15 following previews from Oct. 13 at Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre.



Blessed with charisma not unlike Gifford's, McPherson found Hollywood fame in the '20s and '30s as a healer and media mogul. Time magazine named her one of the most influential people of the 20th century. "She was a fearless, fierce force of nature in feminine form, and we haven't seen anyone like her before or since," raves Gifford, who first learned about the Pentecostal preacher while studying at Oral Roberts University. "She was a genius, and that's why I needed a genius like Carolee Carmello to play her."

Aimee Semple McPherson

Carmello, who reprises the role she played in last year's pre-Broadway engagement in Seattle, has been with Scandalous — previously called Saving Aimee — since an early production in 2005. "Kathie Lee has put her faith in me, and there's a lot to live up to," says Carmello, a two-time Tony Award nominee (for Parade and Lestat). "Between honoring this amazing pioneer's life and honoring Kathie Lee's passionate devotion to telling this story, it's a big responsibility."

"If by 'passionate' you mean 'obnoxious,'" Gifford jokes.

A recording artist with roots in gospel music, Gifford made her Broadway debut in the 1999 Stephen Sondheim revue Putting It Together, but insists she never considered playing McPherson herself. "Half of finding out what you are in life is finding out what you're not, and I, sir, am no Carolee Carmello," she says.

Carmello's powerful pipes help bring the pageantry of McPherson's dramatic sermons to life onstage; the show uses the evangelist's most famous sermon, "The Story of My Life," as a device to help tell her tale. But Gifford, a born-again Christian since the age of 12, is quick to note that the show isn't just for churchgoing, God-fearing folk. "Aimee may preach, but the show's not preachy," Gifford explains. "The last thing we want people to think is that they're coming to church. They're coming to see a razzamatazz Broadway musical about a historical figure who did unbelievable things."

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