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Saving Aimee


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#1 Overstreet

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 07:11 PM

Playbill:

Kathie Lee Gifford, David Friedman and David Pomeranz will revive their musical Saving Aimee, about late Jazz-Age evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, at the 5th Avenue Theatre this fall in Seattle.


Sigh.

Really? I haven't seen this, but it's hard not to assume the worst.

Anyway, an Aimee Semple McPherson musical should really be helmed by Sam Phillips. She's already got four of the songs.

#2 Tyler

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 10:23 PM

And here I was thinking this was another Aimee Mann Magnolia-type thing.

#3 mrmando

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Posted 13 September 2011 - 03:03 PM

The wife managed to get herself signed up as a judge for the local theatre awards program, which means we get to see 20 plays for free this season. I'll report on the Seattle production of Saving Aimee if we end up seeing it.

#4 mrmando

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Posted 30 October 2011 - 03:11 AM

Saw the Seattle production on closing night. Much, much stronger than I expected. Act I follows Aimee's early life (about which I knew nothing), historically contextualized (!) within the origins of the Charismatic movement, covers her two marriages (first to Semple and then to McPherson), portrays her as a bit of a St. Joan figure who took up preaching because the voice of God told her to do so, and concludes with her arrival in Los Angeles. Dramatically most of it's a bit rushed and perfunctory; the opening number is stirring, but nearly all the songs in Act I are bombastic, modern "Broadway belt"-style pieces, marked by just a touch of gospel, with big dynamics and trite lyrics. There's plenty of foreshadowing of the scandal and subsequent trial, but I still wasn't sure at intermission where the play would end up, or whether I'd like it.

Fortunately, Act II slackens the pace and digs into the story. We get to know an Aimee who's appealing but not perfect: she alienates her husband, who eventually divorces her; she pops pills (McPherson died of an accidental overdose of barbiturates at 53); she experiences both self-doubt and temptation, but there's never a whiff of insincerity. On the question of whether McPherson did or didn't have an affair with radio engineer Kenneth Ormiston, the play manages to come down squarely on the side of ambiguity. Its sympathies are with its heroine, of course, but it does get a little silly on the topic of how the charges in her criminal trial came to be dropped: it suggests that she blackmailed both William Randolph Hearst (by repeating the urban legend that he shot Thomas Ince aboard his yacht) and fellow L.A. evangelist "Fighting Bob" Shuler, an outspoken opponent of hers (by suggesting that Shuler used to frequent a brothel in Kansas City, when in fact Shuler apparently never lived there), and that she arranged to have a key piece of trial evidence "accidentally" flushed down a courthouse toilet. For dramatic reasons it also places her third marriage before, not after, the scandal and trial. If it's strict historical accuracy you want, look elsewhere, but if you're interested in high-stakes drama with interesting characters and appealing songs, Act II delivers. Musically there's quite a shift in style compared to the first act: a Tin Pan Alley jazz feel takes over several of the songs; the lyrics get smarter; a Greek chorus of reporters helps drive the tale along with a catchy recurring number called "Hollywood Aimee"; and each of her two male love interests gets a solo number that's intimate and vulnerable, rather than big and brassy. No American preacher was more theatrical than McPherson, and Saving Aimee has fun imagining what her tableaux and pageantry might have been like.

Auteur theory is alive and well here: perhaps it takes a Christian believer in Hollywood to write about Christian believers in Hollywood without turning them into caricatures (apart from the cheap shot at Fighting Bob), and Gifford is to be commended for knowing her stuff and making it credible and compelling. If Act I was perfunctory, perhaps it's because Gifford could hardly wait to tell us everything that happens in Act II, and wanted to set the stage as quickly as possible. I should think it's a rare thing on Broadway to see a warts-and-all portrayal of an evangelical Christian that makes her seem like a human being, but that's what we get with Saving Aimee.

Not that a musical by Sam Phillips wouldn't be interesting too.

Edited by mrmando, 05 November 2011 - 01:56 AM.


#5 Christian

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Posted 16 February 2013 - 10:32 AM

Yikes!

#6 mrmando

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Posted 17 February 2013 - 07:55 PM

Well, too bad it flopped. Here's a review roundup if you're interested.

Unless it was heavily rewritten after the Seattle tryout, the show wasn't anything like a whitewash of McPherson ... so it would take some cojones for the Foursquare Foundation to invest in it so heavily. Gotta admire their boldness, at least. Too bad it didn't find an audience.

I see that the Broadway critics and I shared some misgivings about the music, but I was a lot kinder than they were.

I'd have loved to see George Hearn in this show. I'd love to see him in anything, actually.