Charitable Wing of Sister Aimee's Foursquare Church Gets Shakeup Following Scandalous Investment

By Kenneth Jones
February 15, 2013

The board of the Foursquare Foundation — the charitable arm of The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, founded by evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson — has been "repopulated," apparently partly as a result of the Foundation's investment in the Broadway bomb Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson.



In a posting on its website from Nov. 8, 2012, a week before Scandalous opened to bad reviews (and during a preview period of limp sales), The ICFG board announced, "When Foursquare Foundation was established, a firewall between the foundation and International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (ICFG) was put in place as a financial safeguard. Through the years, this firewall became an unintentional challenge for the ICFG board on several fronts. Though ultimately responsible for the foundation's decisions, the ICFG board was unable to directly effect governance changes, unable to align the foundation's actions with Foursquare's vision and mission, and unable to adequately respond to field concerns about the foundation's processes and decisions.

"The ICFG board of directors came to realize the existence of a growing disconnect between the field and the foundation. Many people took issue with the foundation's narrow scope regarding evangelism, the difficulty of the grant process, and, most recently, the decision to invest in Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson. Taking the action afforded it by the Foursquare Foundation bylaws, the ICFG board of directors repopulated the foundation board with an interim board. This is the first step toward realigning the administration of the $171 million Foursquare Foundation corpus with the vision and mission of The Foursquare Church. This interim board will work to make necessary adjustments so that the foundation can become more inclusive and more effectively steward its resources to accelerate the vision and mission of The Foursquare Church nationally and globally."

Edward Watts and Carolee Carmello in Scandalous.
photo by Jeremy Daniel

Citing church insiders, The Los Angeles Times reported on Feb. 14 that the Foursquare Foundation invested $2 million into the musical biography of its founder, a show that was a passion project for lyricist-librettist Kathie Lee Gifford. The musical closed Dec. 9 within a month of its Nov. 15 opening, losing millions. (Foursquare Foundation has not said how much it invested in the multimillion-dollar show.)

Greg Campbell, the foundation's executive director, exited his position shortly after the show closed. All but one foundation board member was swept out last fall.

In a statement to The Times, the church said, "The conclusion of Greg Campbell's employment with The Foursquare Church was completely unrelated to our investment in the musical Scandalous" and "changes made to the Foursquare Foundation board of directors were also unrelated to the investment in the musical Scandalous."

Read the L.A. Times piece about how Scandalous was costly for the Foursquare Foundation.

As indicated by the church's November statement, Scandalous was apparently only one factor in the shakeup of the board.

On Feb. 1, the Broadway cast of Scandalous gathered to record a cast album of the score by Gifford and composers David Friedman and David Pomeranz. Such large-cast recordings usually cost at least $250,000 to produce. One way investors in flop Broadway shows can make some money back is if the property is produced in the future in stock, amateur, school and regional markets. A cast album is a good calling card for future productions, though Scandalous may be clouded by its bad reviews.

Foursquare Foundation, one of the producers, 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.

 

Carolee Carmello in Scandalous.
Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson was produced by Dick and Betsy DeVos, Foursquare Foundation and in association with The 5th Avenue Theatre (David Armstrong, Executive Producer and Artistic Director; Bernadine Griffin, Managing Director; Bill Berry, Producing Director) and Jeffrey Finn, Executive Producer.

Here's how the producers characterized the fact-inspired show last fall: "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 mix of religious figures and musicals is not unusual on Broadway — think The Book of Mormon, Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar and Leap of Faith — but a powerful woman at the center of such an experience is rare (Sister Act notwithstanding). McPherson, who loved to put on religious pageants to move an audience, was internationally known in the 1920s, '30s and '40s — for good deeds, her popular church and one specific public incident involving a purported kidnapping. Tony Award nominee Carolee Carmello (Parade, Mamma Mia!, Sister Act) played Aimee her from her youth to her premature death from drugs in 1944 at age 53.

The show opened Nov. 15, 2012, following previews from Oct. 13 at the Neil Simon Theatre. At close, it played 31 previews and 29 regular performances.

For the week ending Dec. 2, the show grossed $370,243, an uptick of more than $175,000 from the previous week's take, owing to a special ticket push by The New York Dream Center, which purchased tickets for area residents affected by Hurricane Sandy. The New York Dream Center is the local arm of The Los Angeles Dream Center, the charity organization founded by McPherson at the height of her fame in the 1920s. More than 1,600 tickets were bought and distributed to those in need the week of Nov. 26, but the theatre was filled only to 37.6 percent of capacity during the week.

Gifford's frequent tub-thumping for the show on NBC's "Today," for which she is a host, could not keep the show afloat. On Dec. 5, when she told her viewers about the show's imminent demise, she cited Hurricane Sandy as a factor in the shuttering, and mentioned that other Broadway shows (Chaplin and The Performers) were similarly impacted. (All three shows were not exactly embraced by critics, either.)