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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 28, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 43
High-energy Saving Aimee expects sellouts for final shows
Arts & Entertainment
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High-energy Saving Aimee expects sellouts for final shows

by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

Dolly Levi, the unsinkable Molly Brown, Fanny Brice, Mama Rose, Mame Dennis Burnside, and a whole galaxy of Broadway leading ladies of yesteryear make their appearances in the new, perhaps Broadway-bound Saving Aimee that ends its long Seattle run with final performances today and tomorrow. Dolly, Mame, Fanny, Rose, Molly, and their kindred sisters emerge from time to time in the character of Aimee Semple McPherson, the real-life evangelist who took America by storm in the 1920s and still remains an enigmatic legend. It sometimes seems that Dolly and company suddenly 'got religion' and decided to sing and dance about it.

The high-energy performance of New York's Carolee Carmello, a veteran of 10 Broadway musicals, as Aimee anchors this rambling story of sex, sin, and redemption. She makes her 5th Avenue Theatre debut with Aimee, and what a humdinger of a performance it is. The show veers between a Carol Burnett or Mel Brooks send-up and a sincere exploration of religious inspiration - that's part of its appeal, and also part of its problem. At the end of nearly three hours of electric on-stage performances, the audience still knows little about the mysterious Aimee Semple McPherson. Was she simply 'Hollywood Aimee,' as a knock 'em, sock 'em production number describes her at the start of Act Two, or was she really a prophet, the voice of God sent to redeem America and, perhaps, the world?

As a new 'musical in the works,' Aimee is a perfect show for the 5th Avenue Theatre and its artistic director, David Armstrong, who guides this splashy entertainment to its fullest possible height. The entire production is staged and mounted with Broadway care - tons of glorious costumes tumble on stage, even for tiny roles of waiters and waitresses in elegant art deco nightclubs. The show's creators couldn't hope for a better production - Seattle and the 5th Avenue Theatre reflect Armstrong's consummate staging skill. In the past 10 years, under Armstrong's artistic direction, the 5th has mounted 14 new musicals. Five have continued on to New York where two won Tonys for best musical of the year. Whether Aimee has the chops for New York is now in the hands of its creators and potential Broadway backers.

The show was created by an interesting trio, all with diverse backgrounds. Kathie Lee Gifford, who wrote the book (the scripted story), the lyrics, and some of the music, is the best-known of the three. Her television work over four decades is her main claim to fame, but she also has New York stage appearances in musicals on her résumé. She and David Pomeranz, one of the show's musical composers, have an off-Broadway musical under their belt. Pomeranz has written or performed on recordings that have sold more than 40 million copies worldwide. David Friedman, the third composer, is 'well known for his songs of hope and inspiration,' the program notes explain. He has co-written four new musicals that have been staged by the Village Theatre in Issaquah - several of which this scribe thought had great potential. The numerous songs (perhaps too numerous) range from Aimee's 'I Want' song early in Act One, to 'Stand Up!' (which quickly brought to mind Molly Brown's 'I Ain't Down Yet' for obvious reasons), to the traditional '11 o'clock number' that ends Broadway shows with a big bang - here it is 'I Have a Fire' in a sensational performance by Carmello.

The show's title song, delivered by Aimee's mother - a low-key performance by the outstanding Judy Kaye - is touching and adds a needed dimension. Kaye, a Broadway veteran with incredible performance skills, has little to do here except be a loving, sometimes driven and driving mother. Kaye sails through the evening with all performance pegs solidly in place. Revisions could give her more to do - although she has numerous scenes and several sock 'em songs. Roz Ryan, another Broadway veteran, tears up the stage in every appearance - from whorehouse madam to Aimee's sidekick and protector, Ryan is sensational and a real crowd pleaser. The fact that her character is clearly a combination of too many real-life people and smacks too much of theater stereotype is a weakness that revisions should consider.

Ed Watts and Brandon O'Neill do double duty in the show. Both play two major leading male roles. Watts, a Broadway and touring veteran, is Aimee's first husband, a missionary who dies early in their marriage. O'Neill is Aimee's second husband, who disappears in a scandal-ridden divorce. Both return as other suitors in Act Two - one as a male model who poses as Adam and Samson and other Biblical heroes in the skimpiest costumes possible for a family audience. The eye candy is obviously intentional - just as Aimee planned it in her Biblical pageants at her vast Los Angeles church where 25,000 people attended services each Sunday.

There's much to admire in Saving Aimee. As is traditional with new musicals at the 5th, the show had been running more than three weeks before the press was invited to a tightened (and 'frozen') show on Thursday of last week. The final three performances tonight and tomorrow could easily be near-sellouts. Check with the box office for ticket availability - on opening night, the main floor and the balcony circle were sold out, but the upper side balcony seemed totally empty. As it is, Saving Aimee has plenty of punch for local musical theater fans. As for the future, only time will tell.

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