Edward Watts and Roz Ryan Join Cast of Broadway's Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson

By Andrew Gans
and Kenneth Jones
August 10, 2012

Edward Watts (Finian's Rainbow) and Roz Ryan (Chicago, The Pajama Game, Dreamgirls) have joined the cast of the upcoming new Broadway musical, Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson.



Watts will play the dual roles of "Robert Semple, the firey Irish evangelist from the early twentieth century who becomes Aimee's first husband; and David Hutton, a charming Los Angeles actor who becomes Aimee's third husband during the height of her nationwide celebrity."

Ryan portrays Emma Jo Schaeffer, "the tough talking, no-nonsense madame of a brothel who befriends Aimee early in her ministry and becomes a constant fixture in her life for years to come."

Watts and Ryan, both of whom are reprising their respective roles from the musical's pre-Broadway production at Seattle's Fifth Avenue Theatre last fall, join previously announced leading lady and two-time Tony Award nominee Carolee Carmello (Parade, Lestat, Sister Act) as Aimee Semple McPherson, and two-time Tony Award winner George Hearn (Sunset Boulevard, La Cage aux Folles) in the dual roles of James Kennedy and Brother Bob.

Scandalous, with book and lyrics by Kathie Lee Gifford and music by David Pomeranz and David Friedman, begins performances at Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre (250 W. 52nd St.) Oct. 13 prior to a Nov. 15 opening.

Additional casting for Scandalous will be announced soon.

*

Carmello reprises the charismatic role that she played last fall in a Seattle tryout. The 20th-century evangelical superstar Aimee Semple McPherson was the American religious leader who staged provocative illustrated sermons, fed the hungry and famously vanished.

David Armstrong, artistic director of Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre, where the work was seen in 2011 under the title of Saving Aimee, again directs the show, making his Broadway debut.

Carmello is the versatile powerhouse actress-singer who was Tony Award-nominated for her work in Lestat and Parade. She plays the controversial character from her teenage years to maturity. Gifford told Playbill.com that she originally wrote the show for two actresses, but when Carmello was cast, she told Gifford she was up for the challenge of playing the wide range of McPherson's life. This will be Carmello's 12th Broadway show, following such titles as Sister Act, The Addams Family, Mamma Mia!, Urinetown and more.

Scandalous will be produced by Dick & Betsy DeVos, Foursquare Foundation and Jeffrey Finn (executive producer), in association with The 5th Avenue Theatre.

Gifford — a singer, Broadway actress, "Today" talk-show host and humanitarian — lamented that McPherson has "fallen through the cracks of history," even though her evangelical efforts continue today. Foursquare Foundation, one of the producers of Scandalous, is affiliated with The Foursquare Church, which McPherson founded. Today, The Foursquare Church has more than 1,800 U.S. churches and almost 60,000 churches and meeting places in 140 countries. Read more about the history of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (the organization's official name) here

 

Kathie Lee Gifford
photo by Krissie Fullerton

Gifford called McPherson (1890-1944) a major celebrity and social force — as popular then as today's "Madonna, Lady Gaga and Oprah, if you put them all together."

The property's earlier titles Hurricane Aimee and Saving Aimee didn't quite hit the nail on the head, Gifford said, and the creators didn't want a marquee that suggested sermons or church. "I don't want anybody thinking that they're coming to church," Gifford said. "She was a Pentecostal evangelist — and that is about as theatrical as you get. I don't want to scare off anybody. I've been obsessed by her since I first heard her name more than 40 years ago in college."

Of the title change, she told Playbill.com, "We've been looking for the right title as long as I've been looking for the right story."

There have been trims and rewrites since Seattle, Gifford said. "We have so much story to tell, some of the best songs had to go…if they didn't move our story forward then they had to be sacrificed on the altar."

Gifford revealed two other pieces of casting: Ed Watts will play Aimee's first and third husbands, and Roz Ryan will play Emma Jo, a New Orleans brothel keeper. (Beyond Carmello, no other casting has been officially announced.)

Music direction and vocal arrangements are by Joel Fram, choreography is by Lorin Latarro. Gifford also has an "additional music by" credit, for one bawdy song that she authored.

Who is the audience for Scandalous? Gifford, herself known as a woman of faith, said she wants "a secular audience...people of faith…people interested in history and feminism…"

While explaining that the creative goal is "to be faithful to her legacy….to what her life story teaches us," Gifford quickly added that Aimee was a force of nature, a tabloid queen, a woman who knew great love (her first husband, missionary Robert Semple) and a figure of mystery (she disappeared for a month, claiming she was a victim of a kidnapping, which could not be proved). In short, Gifford said, both a woman of God and "a helluva woman."

Here's how the producers characterize it in the production announcement: "Set in 1920s Los Angeles, holiness collides with Hollywood in this extraordinary tale of one remarkable woman's charismatic rise to fame amidst scandalous love affairs and growing controversy, inevitably ending in her much-publicized fall from grace."

The creative team of Scandalous also includes scenic designer Walt Spangler (Desire Under the Elms), costume designer Gregory A. Poplyk (making his Broadway debut), Tony-winning lighting designer Natasha Katz (Once, Aida), sound designer Ken Travis (Newsies, Memphis) and Tomy-winning orchestrator Bruce Coughlin (The Light in the Piazza).

Tickets, at $57-$127, will be available from Aug. 20 at Tickemaster.com or (877) 250-BWAY (2929).

Tickets may also be purchased in-person at the Neil Simon Theatre Box Office, 250 W. 52nd Street, beginning Sept. 17.

For more information, visit ScandalousOnBroadway.com.