The reviews are in for Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson, and it seems as though critics would have enjoyed a whole lot more scandal. Carolee Carmello brings to life the title role, and provides the only real entertainment of the night — her voice is powerful and emotional, making the most of otherwise uninteresting numbers. A driving force behind the production, Kathie Lee Gifford is responsible for the tired book and lyrics while David Pomeranz and David Friedman put their names on the music. If you seek a strong musical performance, go see Carolee Carmello, but audience beware, don’t try looking for anything more.
NEW YORK TIMES
““The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson,” as the show is subtitled, are actually much more fascinating than you would gather from this formulaic Broadway musical. With book and lyrics by Kathie Lee Gifford and music by David Pomeranz and David Friedman, “Scandalous,” which opened on Thursday night at the Neil Simon Theater, condenses and rearranges McPherson’s story to fit smoothly into the familiar grooves of celebrity biography. In the process the show reduces McPherson’s remarkable life to a cliché-bestrewn fable about the wages of fame….Broadway jackals suspicious of [Kathy Lee] Gifford’s bona fides were surely hoping for an epoch-making turkey in time for Thanksgiving. Sorry, guys. “Scandalous” isn’t so much scandalously bad as it is generic and dull….True, collectors of camp might find some minor pleasures in the splashy biblical pageants of the second act, when McPherson, portrayed with hearty gumption by Carolee Carmello, looks on with a twinkly eye as Adam and Eve chomp from a sequined apple, or vamps as an alluring Delilah as Samson groans in beefcake bondage….God and the good works (and mostly bad musicals) he inspires are almost reduced to a walk-on in “Scandalous,” which plays down McPherson’s extraordinary ministry and spends most of its time dramatizing the punishing peaks and valleys of her personal life.”
AM NEW YORK
“The Tony Award for fearless determination – if such a thing actually existed, ought to go to Kathie Lee Gifford. She has been developing and promoting her musical “Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson” – for which she wrote the lyrics, book and even some of the music – for more than a decade….The score – the work of no less than three composers – mainly consists of generic samplings from various genres: Irish jig, beer hall anthem, tambourine-shaking prayer and so on. Carolee Carmello, who has spent the past few years alternating between the tryouts of “Scandalous” and stints in “Mamma Mia!,” throws all of her dramatic and vocal intensity into the role, but it is an off-putting, aggressive performance. Tony winner George Hearn plays two negligible roles. Such is what happens when you get too old to play Sweeney Todd again”
“There is nothing remotely scandalous about “Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson,” the biographical musical that has book, lyrics and additional music by Kathie Lee Gifford. Despite the inevitable celebrity-lite target on Gifford’s back, the musical about the media-star Christian evangelist of the 1920s does not have the toxic aura of a vanity production. It is well-produced and professional. It’s also not interesting, alas, at least not interesting enough to sustain 21/2 hours of fast-forward storytelling and inspirational songs that almost always end in throbbing climax. At least as problematic is the bombardment of nursery-rhyme lyrics…But we have a reason to give thanks, and that is Carolee Carmello. One of our most deeply wonderful, inexplicably underutilized singing actors, Carmello finally gets a giant vehicle that needs her massive talents….Despite the monotony of the touch-what-you-dream songs (music by David Pomeranz and David Friedman), Carmello alone makes Aimee’s journey feel as adventurous as it clearly was.”
“The musical that just opened at the Neil Simon is distinctive in not one positive way, but it’s nearly impossible to wrench your gaze from its glitz-drenched train wreck thanks to its sublime star, Carolee Carmello. Gifted as an actress and even better as a belter, Carmello could hardly have begged for a more doting showcase vehicle for her considerable talents than this one about 20th-century evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944). Kathie Lee Gifford (book, lyrics, and additional music) and David Pomeranz and David Friedman (music) have provided Carmello with countless opportunities to flaunt her golden pipes, embody bone-deep glamor, and attract the audience with the kind of comforting embrace modern-day headliners are so seldom allowed to deploy….Carmello sails through all this, and quite a bit more, with such ease that you can’t help but be positive she does it 20 times before breakfast every morning, and sings an astonishing amount of vocally taxing material even though she spends all but a few scant minutes onstage, trying to win us over to her cause. That she comes within millimeters of succeeding is still more impressive given the obstacles she’s up against. For what the writers and director David Armstrong foist upon her — and by extension us — is enough to propel the most devout believer into a spiritual crisis…Carmello’s stunning singing, at once brassy and hypnotic and warm, cannot compensate for the utter lack of memorable music, even among the faux-energetic gospel romps, or a halfway-witty lyric, anywhere in the bulging song stack — a big problem for a musical promoting the importance show biz’s value as a medium of communication. The jokes are lame, yes (“I swear some of these Christians are so pious, they just pious me off!”), but the story is impossible to follow, with no character other than Aimee given so much as three minutes of close attention….Based on how high Carmello elevates Aimee beyond what’s on the page, no one need fear for her career. Scandalous itself, however, looks well beyond saving.”
“The American Theatre Wing might as well give Carolee Carmello her Tony Award now. Just like her alter ego for the evening, early-20th-century evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, Carmello is performing miracles, only hers are onstage at the Neil Simon Theatre. In “Scandalous,” the seasoned stage veteran’s top billing is a credit to her performance rather than to her bankability—there’s book writer and lyricist Kathie Lee Gifford for that—and Carmello deserves it, delivering one of the season’s must-see performances (she’s onstage for all but 11 minutes of the show’s two-and-a-half hours). Unfortunately, Carmello’s miracle work doesn’t extend to Gifford’s flimsy, expository musical, which features uncertain direction by David Armstrong….Gifford’s book and lyrics sound like she transcribed McPherson’s Wikipedia page and had it set to music. Carmello is asked to relay countless monologues, usually while stripping off Gregory A. Poplyk’s suitable period costumes to reveal another outfit. (The actor transitions from Aimee at 16 to Aimee at 50 with remarkable ease.) The reason to put a story onstage is to theatricalize it. When Carmello sings, there’s magic in the theater, even if David Pomeranz and David Friedman’s tunes are generic (Gifford also gets a credit for “additional music”). Joel Fram’s music direction and vocal arrangements, though, are an absolute delight. The revival scenes feel like a religious experience, thanks to a winning ensemble and Lorin Latarro’s peppy choreography….There will be bumps in the road this season—and “Scandalous” may be one of them—but there is absolutely no doubt that Carmello is a Broadway superhero.”