See Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth speak to her personal connection with the late infamous televangelist Tammy Faye Messner, formerly Bakker—and why she wants to bring her life to Broadway—in the video above, a highlight from a new episode of 20/20 that re-examines the story of Messner and her once-husband Jim Bakker. The episode is set to air January 18 on ABC.
Chenoweth, a Tony winner for her performance as Sally Brown in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown and star of such Broadway musicals as Wicked, On the Twentieth Century, and Promises, Promises, has been developing a biomusical inspired by Messner's life for almost a decade, with the intention of starring as Messner.
"I think she's a rich, interesting character. And when I say character, that's exactly what I mean," the Tony and Emmy winner says. "I think there are things to learn from her. As a person of faith myself, I can appreciate where it began for her and where her heart was."
A 2011 reading of the work featured a score by Dreamgirls composer Henry Krieger and book by Australian playwright Anthony Crowley. The cast, led by Chenoweth, also included Hunter Foster and Nancy Opel.
Bakker and Messner, who rose to prominence as the husband and wife televangelist hosts of TV's Praise the Lord Club from 1974 through 1987, were embroiled in a scandal that made national headlines when Bakker was accused of sexual assault and financial fraud involving hush money paid to his alleged victim. Messner famously stood by Bakker's side throughout the majority of the scandal, divorcing him years after Bakker was sentenced to 45 years in prison on 24 counts of fraud. She would go on to marry Roe Messner, who was himself convicted of bankruptcy fraud in 1996.
Despite her conservative Christian background and image, Messner became an unlikely gay icon later in her career. Messner had urged viewers to embrace and show compassion to AIDS patients as early as her time on Praise the Lord Club at the height of the epidemic, and went on to appear in many gay pride parades alongside such queer figures as Bruce Vilanch and Lady Bunny. RuPaul, a vocal fan of Messner, narrated the 1999 documentary on her life, The Eyes of Tammy Faye.