Scandalous Snags Candy Buckley as Evangelist's Mother; Casting for New Broadway Musical Is Complete

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29 Aug 2012

Candy Buckley
Candy Buckley

Candy Buckley completes the final piece of the casting puzzle for the new Broadway musical Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson, which begins previews Oct. 13 at the Neil Simon Theatre. She'll play Minnie Kennedy, the headstrong mother of the title evangelist.

Buckley's Broadway credits include Cabaret, After the Fall, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Ring Round the Moon. Her Off-Broadway credits include Shockheaded Peter, Defying Gravity, The Petrified Prince (Drama Desk nomination), Communicating Doors, Two Noble Kinsmen, Valhalla, Bernarda Alba and Knives and Other Sharp Objects.

The musical featuring book and lyrics by Kathie Lee Gifford and music by David Pomeranz and David Friedman, stars the previously announced two-time Tony nominee Carolee Carmello (Sister Act, Mamma Mia!, Parade) as Aimee.

Opening night is Nov. 15. Tickets are on sale at ScandalousOnBroadway.com.

 

Edward Watts and Carolee Carmello in the 2011 Seattle tryout.
photo by Chris Bennion



Here's how the producers characterize the fact-inspired show: "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."

As previously announced, Scandalous also stars two-time Tony Award winner George Hearn (Sunset Blvd., La Cage aux Folles, Sweeney Todd) as James Kennedy and Brother Bob, Edward Watts (Finian's Rainbow) as Robert Semple and David Hutton, Roz Ryan (Chicago, Dreamgirls) as Emma Jo Schaeffer and Andrew Samonsky as Harold McPherson and Kenneth Ormiston.

The ensemble cast includes Nick Cartell, Joseph Dellger, Erica Dorfler, Carlos L. Encinias, Hannah Florence, Corey Greenan, Benjamin Howes, Karen Hyland, Alison Luff, Jesse Nager, Sam Strasfeld, Betsy Struxness, Elizabeth Ward Land, Billie Wildrick, Dan'yelle Williamson and Matt Wolfe.

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David Armstrong, artistic director of Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre, where the work was seen in 2011 under the title of Saving Aimee, again directs the show, making his Broadway debut.

Music direction and vocal arrangements are by Joel Fram, choreography is by Lorin Latarro. Gifford also has an "additional music by" credit, for one bawdy song that she authored.

The creative team of Scandalous also includes scenic designer Walt Spangler (Desire Under the Elms), costume designer Gregory A. Poplyk (making his Broadway debut), Tony-winning lighting designer Natasha Katz (Once, Aida), sound designer Ken Travis (Newsies, Memphis) and Tony-winning orchestrator Bruce Coughlin (The Light in the Piazza).

Carolee Carmello in a pre-Broadway production of Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson.
photo by Chris Bennion

Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson is produced by Dick and Betsy DeVos, Foursquare Foundation (connected to the church McPherson founded) 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.

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Carmello reprises the charismatic role that she played last fall in a Seattle tryout. The 20th-century evangelical superstar Aimee Semple McPherson was the American religious leader who staged provocative illustrated sermons, fed the hungry and famously vanished.

Carmello is the versatile powerhouse actress-singer who was Tony Award-nominated for her work in Lestat and Parade. She plays the controversial character from her teenage years to maturity. Gifford told Playbill.com that she originally wrote the show for two actresses, but when Carmello was cast, she told Gifford she was up for the challenge of playing the wide range of McPherson's life. This will be Carmello's 12th Broadway show, following such titles as Sister Act, The Addams Family, Mamma Mia!, Urinetown and more.

Gifford — a singer, Broadway actress, "Today" talk-show host and humanitarian — lamented that McPherson has "fallen through the cracks of history," even though her evangelical efforts continue today. Foursquare Foundation, one of the producers of Scandalous, is affiliated with The Foursquare Church, which McPherson founded. Today, The Foursquare Church has more than 1,800 U.S. churches and almost 60,000 churches and meeting places in 140 countries. Read more about the history of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (the organization's official name) here

Kathie Lee Gifford
Photo by Krissie Fullerton

Gifford called McPherson (1890-1944) a major celebrity and social force — as popular then as today's "Madonna, Lady Gaga and Oprah, if you put them all together."

The property's earlier titles Hurricane Aimee and Saving Aimee didn't quite hit the nail on the head, Gifford said, and the creators didn't want a marquee that suggested sermons or church. "I don't want anybody thinking that they're coming to church," Gifford said. "She was a Pentecostal evangelist — and that is about as theatrical as you get. I don't want to scare off anybody. I've been obsessed by her since I first heard her name more than 40 years ago in college."

Of the title change, she told Playbill.com, "We've been looking for the right title as long as I've been looking for the right story."

There have been trims and rewrites since Seattle, Gifford said. "We have so much story to tell, some of the best songs had to go…if they didn't move our story forward then they had to be sacrificed on the altar."

Who is the audience for Scandalous? Gifford, herself known as a woman of faith, said she wants "a secular audience...people of faith…people interested in history and feminism…"

While explaining that the creative goal is "to be faithful to her legacy….to what her life story teaches us," Gifford quickly added that Aimee was a force of nature, a tabloid queen, a woman who knew great love (her first husband, missionary Robert Semple) and a figure of mystery (she disappeared for a month, claiming she was a victim of a kidnapping, which could not be proved). In short, Gifford said, both a woman of God and "a helluva woman."