Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre has become known as a successful staging ground for new musicals before they make their way to Broadway. The ascent of three of those musicals to hit status – Jekyll & Hyde, Hairspray and The Wedding Singer – certainly burnished the theatre’s reputation.
Now another musical is making the high-stakes transcontinental journey from Seattle to Broadway. Saving Aimee, staged last October at the 5th Avenue Theatre, will begin preview performances at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theater on Oct. 13. This move also marks the Broadway directorial debut of David Armstrong, the 5th Avenue’s Artistic Director. David directed the premiere production in Seattle.
Saving Aimee received mixed to poor reviews in the Seattle press last fall. I thought the story and main character lacked clarity and would require more work before being produced elsewhere. Presumably such tweaking has occurred. We know that at least the show’s title got a rewrite: Scandalous has replaced Saving Aimee as the play’s moniker.
A tremendous advantage Scandalous enjoys is that its book and lyrics were written by Kathy Lee Gifford, famous co-host of NBC’s “Today” Show. The “Today” Show is one hell of a publicity platform. Gifford and co-host Matt Lauer made the announcement on air last week. (David Pomeranz and David Friedman wrote the music.)
Scandalous tells the story of Aimee Semple McPherson, the first media superstar evangelist. She was the prototype for a rogue’s gallery that has followed her, the Swaggarts being perhaps the most notorious. McPherson had a spectacular fall from grace in Los Angeles that included a “scandalous” love affair and a tabloid-frenzied trial.
In a recent New York Times story Patrick Healy noted that Broadway musicals based on religious themes have had a rough time lately. The $14 million musical Leap of Faith flopped quickly this spring and revivals of Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell closed this summer, felled by low ticket sales. Sister Act, a musical about salvation, replete with singing nuns, could not save itself: it closes next month.
David Armstrong, well respected in Seattle’s theatre community, has excelled as the 5th Avenue’s Artistic Director over the last decade. Our best wishes accompany David to Broadway, that treacherous land where they take no prisoners.
(In my next post I’ll write about the daunting finances of producing on Broadway.)