Charitable Wing of Sister Aimee's Foursquare Church Gets Shakeup Following Scandalous Investment

By Kenneth Jones
15 Feb 2013


Carolee Carmello in Scandalous.
Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson was produced by Dick and Betsy DeVos, Foursquare Foundation and in association with The 5th Avenue Theatre (David Armstrong, Executive Producer and Artistic Director; Bernadine Griffin, Managing Director; Bill Berry, Producing Director) and Jeffrey Finn, Executive Producer.

Here's how the producers characterized the fact-inspired show last fall: "Set in 1920s Los Angeles, holiness collides with Hollywood in this extraordinary tale of one remarkable woman's charismatic rise to fame amidst scandalous love affairs and growing controversy, inevitably ending in her much-publicized fall from grace."

The mix of religious figures and musicals is not unusual on Broadway — think The Book of Mormon, Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar and Leap of Faith — but a powerful woman at the center of such an experience is rare (Sister Act notwithstanding). McPherson, who loved to put on religious pageants to move an audience, was internationally known in the 1920s, '30s and '40s — for good deeds, her popular church and one specific public incident involving a purported kidnapping. Tony Award nominee Carolee Carmello (Parade, Mamma Mia!, Sister Act) played Aimee her from her youth to her premature death from drugs in 1944 at age 53.

The show opened Nov. 15, 2012, following previews from Oct. 13 at the Neil Simon Theatre. At close, it played 31 previews and 29 regular performances.

For the week ending Dec. 2, the show grossed $370,243, an uptick of more than $175,000 from the previous week's take, owing to a special ticket push by The New York Dream Center, which purchased tickets for area residents affected by Hurricane Sandy. The New York Dream Center is the local arm of The Los Angeles Dream Center, the charity organization founded by McPherson at the height of her fame in the 1920s. More than 1,600 tickets were bought and distributed to those in need the week of Nov. 26, but the theatre was filled only to 37.6 percent of capacity during the week.

Gifford's frequent tub-thumping for the show on NBC's "Today," for which she is a host, could not keep the show afloat. On Dec. 5, when she told her viewers about the show's imminent demise, she cited Hurricane Sandy as a factor in the shuttering, and mentioned that other Broadway shows (Chaplin and The Performers) were similarly impacted. (All three shows were not exactly embraced by critics, either.)