The Mormons have been granted a reprieve with the arrival on Broadway of “Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson.”
It will probably be temporary, because I’m pretty certain the musical’s very high kitsch factor is unintended. Clearly the show is meant as an advertisement for the Foursquare Foundation, the Salvation Army-like legacy of the megachurch that McPherson founded in Los Angeles in the 1920s.
Like the living dioramas savagely satirized in “The Book of Mormon,” the best parts of “Scandalous” offer supersize tableaux vivants of Samson and Delilah and Moses with Pharoah on the stage of the Angelus Temple, where the charismatic holy roller preached her Good News gospel.
The show has a book, lyrics and some music by morning TV personality Kathie Lee Gifford (the rest is by David Pomeranz and David Friedman); monumentalist sets by Walt Spangler blazingly lit by Natasha Katz; and heavenly costumes by Gregory A. Poplyk.
And it has a big, old-fashioned voice-like-a-brass-band star in Carolee Carmello in the subtitle role.
The story is told in flashback from the stage of the church, a stalagmite-like structure of Heaven-ascendant crystal spires. McPherson has been accused of fraud, cohabitation and general bad behavior following a disappearance of several weeks during which she claimed to have been kidnapped and taken to the Mexican desert for purposes of torture and ransom.
Having emerged from her ordeal with little more than a few grass stains, she seems more likely to have in fact been holed up in lovely Carmel-by-the-Sea with a married lover. The tabloid press smells blood. And so she, backed of course by a swinging choir, tells her story.
She was drawn to preaching, faith healing, speaking in tongues and the like from an early age. Despite the disapproval of her deadly serious mother (Candy Buckley), she is also drawn to the theater, in which her understanding father (George Hearn) saw no harm. The training would become pretty useful.
The songs are nearly all ear drum-shattering anthems as Aimee turns sinners into believers across the Roaring Twenties.
There is no discernible point of view in evidence about any of this. For a show about an evangelical, “Scandalous” is oddly devoid of the words Jesus Christ -- an indication, perhaps, that the authors didn’t want to rub the Broadway audience’s collective face in too much of that, you know, religious stuff.
“Scandalous” is as ecumenically innocuous as it is pointless.
At the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St. Information: +1- 877-250-2929; http://www.ticketmaster.com. Rating: *1/2
“The Performers” is an old-fashioned romantic sitcom tricked out in Vegas glitz and spritzed with a dose of titillation recalling those lame British sex comedies that nearly killed Broadway in the 1960s and ’70s.
David West Read’s one-act begins in a hotel suite, where a straight-arrow journalist (wide-eyed Daniel Breaker) is interviewing a porn star (the goofily charming hunk Cheyenne Jackson) on the evening he expects to win the “adult film” equivalent of an Oscar. The star and the journalist were high school acquaintances.
The former is married to another porn star (daffily appealing Ari Graynor). The journalist has brought his fiancee (Alicia Silverstone, the most grounded of the lot), his girlfriend since their teenage years and the only woman he’s ever slept with.
You can imagine the strange trip these innocents are in for. If their odyssey through porno land doesn’t have quite the resonance of Candide and Cunegonde’s trials, the theme of a journey that tests true love is at least as old as Voltaire’s garden, and as new as “Moonrise Kingdom.”
I’d leave it at that; there are some thumping laughs at the expense of vain, dopey stars mixing it up with suburban rubes and a game cast that also includes The Fonz -- Henry Winkler -- as a legend, the paterfamilias of porn, in Evan Cabnet’s breezy production.
But in too many nasty punchlines that I can’t repeat here, “The Performers” shattered the comforting fantasy that these actors are just like you and me only naked, enhanced and happily splashing around in their own juices. Cunegonde learns a shocking thing or two about female debasement in her journey. No such wisdom accrues here.
Through Sunday at the Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St. Information: +1- 212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: *
Gretchen Mol plays the title role in “The Good Mother,” Francine Volpe’s forgettable one-act play about a single parent who may or may not be a seductress, a wanton, psychotic, merely immature or all of the above.
She hires the mentally unbalanced son of her former counselor (who may have been more than that) to babysit her autistic 4-year-old daughter so she can have sex with the trucker she just met in a bar. When they come back to the apartment, spooky things begin to happen.
The production, as halting and aimless as Mol’s performance, makes clear that director Scott Elliott (who leads the adventurous New Group, which is presenting the show) doesn’t have any more of a clue about what the playwright is getting at than I did. When “The Good Mother” stopped dead in its tracks -- which, oddly, it did rather than end -- I was relieved.
Through Dec. 22 at the New Group, 410 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-212-244-3380; http://www.thenewgroup.org. Rating: (No stars)
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(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include movies and New York weekend.
To contact the writer of this column: Jeremy Gerard in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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