Semple Gifts

Thanks to longtime reader SL for reminding to post about Scandalous, the Broadway musical based on the life of the flamboyant, high-flying, soul-stirring, rafter-raising faith-healing mega-evangelist, Aimee Semple McPherson. The book and lyrics are by Kathy Lee Gifford, who knows something about being a multimedia impresaria, and the show is part of a larger revival of Sister Aimee’s historical profile, thanks primarily to the success of Matthew Avery Sutton’s excellent book, Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of American Christianity.

I’ll reserve judgment on the show since I haven’t seen it (the Times has a review here), but its source material couldn’t be richer and Broadway’s outsized aesthetic and the devotional seriousness with which it tends to render its subjects on stage seem pretty close to exactly the right medium for treating a life such as Semple McPherson’s.

And for fans of gospel, there are few historical figures more important to the development of the gospel gestalt in America than Sister Aimee. Indeed, gospel guru Anthony Heilbut takes Semple McPherson as a kind of fairy godmother to the outrageous performances of lachrymose piety and evangelistic narcissism that have been defined in our own time by PTL and TBN but that also figure prominently in the gospel style we all know and love (to hate to love). Certainly when I teach Elmer Gantry in my seminar on the culture of American gospel, students immediately recognize Semple McPherson’s style and appeal and her repertoire of flaws and flamboyance and fabulousness in more than a few of the most famous gospel acts.

Of course all of this just reinforces my belief that there’s bank to made in a southern gospel musical for Broadway. Can’t someone get on that?

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  1. Pink wrote:

    Gifford got word last week that the show was closing and has closed.

  2. Tom wrote:

    This is off subject but had to talk about a discovery I made on YouTube - the Deep River Quartet. I may be late to their party but a new discovery for me. They are from the Netherlands and perform in Europe. I think they were based in the US in the 30’s or 40’s but are in Europe full time now. They perform gospel (spirituals) and pop, but they have the sound of a southern gospel group. Lead,Bass, Baritone and Tenor. Four mikes and great understated stage prescence. Give them a listen and I would be interested in your opinion or any info about them. If I go to Amsterdam again I hope I can see them.

  3. closed .... wrote:

    This show is already closed. Played the last show on Dec. 9.

    This is unfortunate, because I saw the show and it was - in one word - amazing!!!

  4. SG_Obzerver wrote:

    Andrew Lloyd Webber presents…”Phantom of Freedom Hall”…or perhaps “J.D. Sumner Superstar”…or “Vestal” featuring the song Don’t Cry For Me Pigeon Forge.

    I could do this all day…

  5. Videoguy wrote:

    I’m sure there’s a Tony-winning plot for a SG musical buried in the AVFL archive.

  6. CVH wrote:

    It seems that what could have been a much more interesting show has been hamstrung by Gifford’s superficial, cliche-filled treatment. Friends who saw it last week gave decidedly mixed reviews. ‘The New Yorker’s’ take on the show was similarly dim; a charming put-down as only ‘The New Yorker’ can do. Still, kudos for getting it this far.

    I’d love to see a well-produced show (or film) that focused on a southern gospel personage or theme - it would have to be “based on” in order to embellish the characters and storyline. If it was done on the order of ‘Oh Brother Where Art Thou?’ it would probably attract mainstream money and audience. I’m not sure who would tackle a project like that but I think you’d need input from secular writers and producers; if you leave it to the Sherwood Pictures crowd they’d only booger it up with Christian propaganda and sacrifice the humanness of the characters.

    In the meantime, Merry Christmas to all.

  7. irishlad wrote:

    A female Billy Graham if you like in the sack too if contemporary accounts are to believed.Either way a woman way beyond her time.

  8. Sensible wrote:

    Speaking of scandalous, has anyone else seen this link which is now not a rumor or gossip. It is published that an arrest was made.

  9. Pink wrote:

    #8 - Pensacola News Journal online reports Varnado was arrested on child porn charges, possession, receiving and sending illegal materials. He has pleaded not guilty.

  10. Bones wrote:

    Sensible, I heard the report. It’s terrible. Now people are going to freak out. I hope there is no reflection on the quartet he was with. You never know when a weirdo is among you.

  11. irishlad wrote:

    6 A warts and all docu would be the best fit.Bring in the producers of Mad Men for the gritty realism of the Golden era and Seth McFarland and his darkly comic genius to highlight the absurbity of the whole hypocritical charade.He could even right the score, I’ve heard some decent harmony stuff on Family Guy.There’s something for everyone here.Corny jokes, priatic Basses, gay tenors (but not exclusively)paedo(alegedly)piano players,embezzing piano players oh yes and the odd good guy.Now not to be too cyinical the closing credits could roll along to What a Day That Will Be….what a day indeed.

  12. irishlad wrote:

    *write the score.

  13. irishlad wrote:

    I believe i meant priapic Basses.

  14. Sensible wrote:

    10 - Bones - It is terrible. Since there is no detail, some will assume certain things about the situation and we really do not know based on the articles. As one fellow put it, it is bad or maybe worse.

    This is what I mean. All we know is the charge is related to child porn. But what does that mean? Is it hetrosexual or homosexual in nature? Is it young kids who are 12 and under? Or, does it involve teenagers who may or may not look like adults? Was he “producing” this as a product? Participating in the media of it? Duplicating and distributing? Or was he sharing it? Or trafficing it and making money off of it?

    Believe me, I am not condoning or justifying any of these alligations. I have kids and neices and nephews, and it is sin and it is sick if proven to be true of him. Like it has been said it is bad or worse; there’s no good in any of it if proven to be true.

    All we know is that he has been accused, arrested, and will face a trial and people should realize that this could go in several directions. Either way it is a mess, and it is a black eye to gospel music. However, I’m sure there are others in this industry who are guilty of the same or participating in worse things (if possible).

  15. Keep In Mind wrote:

    #10, Don’t assume that you know the facts based upon charges. Child doesn’t have to mean a kid. And he’s not even being accused of meeting anyone. Isn’t it a great thing that we can be judgemental non-praying Christians who assume the worst?

  16. Ode wrote:

    “”…it is a black eye to gospel music.”"”

    Even if gospel had as many eyes as a sprouting potato, they got all black, courtesy of predecessors, way before the “ginger bastard’s“( as Ilad called him :D ), addiction to kiddie porn got unearthed.

  17. Ode wrote:


    because assuming “best” in such situation is like finding the healthiest patient in a cancer ward.

    He is charged with owning child (legally it is the same as “kid”, means: underage, you genius) porn.It’s a Federal offence, min. sentence 5 years. I just chatted with a guy from our church’s prison ministry; this kind of crime will make Stewart’s life in,most likely, medium security correctional facility very tough , esp. from other inmates.

    Him not ”meeting a child for sex” is irrelevant. In the eyes of the law his crime is the same as if he did –as a consumer of child porn he is the reason why kids are sexually exploited.

    Even after release he will be on the national Sex Offenders list, restricting even his ability to come near a school or a public park.Life will rake him over coals.

    I am a big proponent of exposing the fake “faith“of xtian crooks, but this boy will get the full measure of punishment without our help.

    Actually, does anyone know his address? Not to publish it, but maybe you can give it to those of us who want to write to him with some encouragement? Stewart is our Christian brother. “I was in prison, and you visited me..” Matt 25 36

  18. irishlad wrote:

    14/15 obviously the board of the MQS don’t share your magnanimous sentiments.
    I was actually going to voice it a bit stronger than that.

  19. Dee Carter wrote:

    I’ve met him on several occasions and he was always a nice guy. No matter though, if he actually possessed even one shred of child porn……to-the-wolves.

    …..then pray for him.

  20. baffled wrote:

    I’m sorry but I’m baffled about the Ode post relating to Stewart, him being a “Christian” brother in prison and someone quoting scripture “I was in prison, and you visited me..” Matt 25 36. I don’t think the person writing this was in prison for exploiting children, but for his expression of his faith.

    Stewart is right where he belongs, and his punishment should be much steeper. I’m a survivor of child molestation which has occurred twice in my life both times separate “up-standing” individuals in my church.

    Wake Up! Just b/c he seems decent does mean he hasn’t been using his gospel singing Christian lifestyle as a front. i know several gospel singers who don’t demonstrate a shred of “real” faith in their lives. Not to say there aren’t any, but don’t defend or cover up for those who are wolves in sheep’s clothing!

    Am I angry? yes! If Christ turned the tables at the synagogue how much more would he want to crash the computers of those promoting an industry that is dedicated to hurting, raping, molesting and killing young children?

    Don’t be blind. Child pornography continues to be an ongoing problem on the internet and Facebook. Should we forgive Stewart? yes. Should we ignore the problem? no. Of course he will plead not guilty. I mean, he doesn’t want his golden reputation or that of his peers smeared.

    Another thing that saddens me: All the prayers for Stewart yet not one mentions prayers for the children who are victims in this case. Max penalty to those committing these crimes.

    If you don’t understand sex offenders, do some research. Most are never “cured”. And if he hadn’t met face to face with one yet it would’ve only been a matter of time before that sickness would’ve taken over.

    As Christians we are to demonstrate compassion but please don’t forget about safeguarding our children against those who would seek to harm them. One way to do this is to bring the dark into the light and EXPOSE IT!

  21. Ode wrote:

    20, He will get very, very harsh punishment, don’t worry.

    “Person that wrote it’( sad you dont know this) was Jesus, talking on behalf of every prisoner in the world - serial killer, child molester or thief.

    What you said are some of the most disgusting, evil and Christ -hating things I ever saw in writing.

    I am giving you a few days to sober up and retract your post, or for somebody to write a rebuttal.
    If that won’t happen, it’ll absolutely cement my suspicion that SG completely lost its moral footing, sold its soul to the devil, and despite liking the music part, its probably the time for me to stay far, far away from it.

  22. LocoBro wrote:

    How about this guy??

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