She was the most famous woman no one has ever heard of. But, Kathie Lee Gifford, Emmy-Award winning television star and co-anchor of the Fourth Hour of the Today Show, is going to change that. Gifford wrote the book and lyrics to an upcoming musical called “Saving Aimee,” which will be featured in Seattle for the play’s west coast premiere.
Gifford attended the first Spotlight Night of the 2011-2012 season 5th Avenue Theatre Saturday, September 10 to give Seattle audiences a preview of the show. David Armstrong, 5th Avenue Theatre executive producer and artistic director was the host for the night. Armstrong opened with an interview with Matthew Avery Sutton, author of an acclaimed biography of McPherson and history associate professor at Washington State University.
Sutton told the story of how McPherson, an evangelist who founded the Foursquare Church, lived a life full of love and scandal after moving from Canada to Los Angeles to preach her message. In the 1920s, McPherson opened the Angelus Temple in Los Angeles, which still operates today, where she preached 21 times a week —each of the 5,300 seats was filled. “She was becoming such a draw, tourists would go to Los Angeles to see her,” Sutton said.
In 1926, McPherson disappeared and two people lost their lives in the search. Thus began the biggest scandal of her time. McPherson was at the center of a trial and mystery that has yet to be solved. Newspapers reported McPherson’s disappearance was a staged cover up for an affair with a married man. “She was a master at reinventing herself,” Sutton said.
During the second part of Spotlight Night, Armstrong interviewed Gifford and composers David Pomeranz and David Friedman. Singer, songwriter Pomeranz’s songs have been performed by artists including Bette Midler, Barry Manilow, Isaac Hayes, Edgar Winter, Clay Aiken and Missy Elliott.
Friedman is known for his work on multi-platinum recordings, Broadway musical and Disney animated films. He has written songs for Diana Ross, Barry Manilow and Nancy LaMott among many others. Pomeranz and Friedman performed some of their songs followed by Saving Aimee cast members who sang their songs as well.
Gifford said she became obsessed with McPherson and her story after she first learned about her in college. She said she remembered hearing her name in the famous 1937 song Hooray for Hollywood. With a few musicals under her belt, Gifford knew she wanted her next one would feature McPherson. While in New York, she met with McPherson’s children to help her tell the story of Sister Aimee.
Toward the end of the night, Saving Aimee cast members talked about their roles in the play. Carolee Carmello, will play McPherson (The Adam’s Family, Parade, Mama Mia!) and Judy Kaye, who will play McPherson’s mother (The Phantom of the Opera, Mama Mia!). Actors also include Brandon O’Neil and Charles Leggett from Seattle and New York celebrities Ed Watts and Ed Dixon. Audiences were able to watch a scene from the play where McPherson meets Robert Semple, Aimee’s first husband, followed by a collaboration with the musical’s entire cast.
Between Friday, September 30 and Sunday, October 2, tickets for performances at the 5th Avenue Theatre will be available for $23.
WHEN: Friday, September 30, 2011 through Saturday, October 29, 2011
5th Avenue Theatre
1308 5th Avenue
Seattle, Washington 98101
TICKETS: From $26 to $119, 5th Avenue Theatre website.