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?Email this Post