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Tammy Faye – A New Musical Sparkles in its Unfocused Frame



It was a show I knew that I wasn’t going to miss when we booked the plane tickets for our typical, but long overdue theatre extravaganza trip in London, UK last November. Tammy Faye, the TV evangelist wife that seems as iconic as an Andy Warhol painting, is quite the galvanizing figure, with a movie and documentary backing up her celebrity status, but she is one that I never really cared that much about. I tend to steer away from religion in general, especially those that have wrapped themselves up in it for their own financial gain, but there is some sort of appeal, maybe the messiness or the outlandishness of her persona. Or the way she doesn’t quite fit into any particular box. Who knows. I did watch the incredibly fascinating film about her, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” starring the talented Jessica Chastain (soon to be on Broadway in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House) on a plane ride one afternoon, and it did pull me in. Especially some of the more fascinating contradictions. It seems the more you know, the more you want to know when it comes to her. And that idea is definitely true about Tammy Faye, the figure, and this flashy fabulously messy musical about her, called, no surprise here, Tammy Faye. Naturally.

The new musical, premiering at the Almeida Theatre in London this past fall, is a big, wild ride, finding humor and compassion inside the tale of this unforgettable entertainer who reveled in the spotlight but also found honor and engagement in a way few others managed. I can’t say that I love or support the woman behind the makeup, but there are many notable things she did inside that religious television show that truly did effect some sort of change, many of them I wasn’t quite aware of until the film and this musical. Composed by Sir Elton John (The Lion King; Billy Elliot the Musical), with lyrics by Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears (Tales of the City), and a book by James Graham (Ink; Best of Enemies), the view from the bridge is wide and expansive, and no wonder, her story is as big as her persona and as complicated as the mess in their financials. A drama of biblical proportions that spans decades and is filled to the rim with greed, complications, and destructive tendencies, by herself and her husband, Jim Baker, played with precision by Andrew Rannells (Broadway’s Boys in the Band). So much to pick your way through, and so little time (even though the show ran about 3hrs long).

Played to the emotional hilt by the extremely talented Katie Brayben (West End’s Beautiful: The Carole King Musical), Tammy is the true star of this epic white-clad makeup-running musical. She delivers forth this woman with an honest-to-God truth and vulnerability that is both wisely epic and smartly simple. And it’s clear from the first interaction with her proctologist (Fred Haig) that this unmasking is going to be deliberate and funny, while also finding the deliciously emotional undercurrent that brought her out into the world before us, and then basically threw her away once the shimmer on her lips and eyes had been smudged and washed away in the rain. She’s an innocent and a clever, determined woman, who believes in God and love in a way most of these evangelists dream of appearing. From puppet lady to trailblazer to being sidelined by the greed of all around her, including her, Brayben finds a core that we can get behind, and with those soaring vocals, we truly are hooked on her.

Andrew Rannells and Katie Brayben in Tammy Faye – A New Musical. Photo by Marc Brenner.

Directed with a swift commanding tone by Rupert Goold (Almeida/West End/Broadway’s King Charles III; Ink), Tammy Faye rises up strong on the versatile modern TV box squared set by Bunny Christie (West End/Broadway’s Company) with dynamic Hollywood lighting by Neil Austin (West End/Broadway’s Leopoldstadt), a solid sound design by Bobby Aitken (Old Vic’s The Divide), and a vibrant video design by Finn Ross (Almeida/Broadway’s American Psycho), with the song and dance elements gaining an insane but enjoyable level that shift and swirl around the subjects with aplomb. We are watching with a wide-opened sense of wonder, as Brayben’s Tammy guides us through, a bit haphazardly, from the young woman who so believes in Jim to the glossy tv-celebrity we all know and, well, sorta love, but in an odd angled kind of way.

As Billy Graham (Peter Caulfield) and all those other jealous men begin to circle about, and there is a whole heap of them, singing and dancing in their own odd kind of manner, the energy keeps shifting. But thanks to some delicate moves and engaging stylistic choices by choreographer Lynne Page (West End’s Funny Girl), the musical as a whole flies on glitter wings. It’s captivatingly fun, for the most part, but seems to be trying to take a bite out of every pie available to them. The rival evangelicals, all scheming religiously around the TV screen boxes, try their best to wrestle control, both of the audiences watching their TVs and the musical itself. Still, it’s really the fall from grace that we know is coming which keeps us tuned in, and some of those details get lost in the battle for center stage.

The Pope and network boss Ted Turner, both portrayed by Nicholas Rowe (Almeida’s Albion) make appearances, and politics become part of the problematic parcel as well, with Ronald Reagan, portrayed by Steve John Shepherd (Hampstead’s Describe the Night) chiming in with his own rhetoric, all in some wonderfully over-the-top 1970s consuming by Katrina Lindsay (West End/Broadway’s Harry Potter…). There is the scheming Jimmy Swaggart (Shepherd) and Pat Robertson (Rowe) on display, but it is the diabolical Jerry Falwell, played to the nines by Zubin Varla (Unicorn’s TheTwits) that sneers his way center stage who commands the most attention.

It’s a devilishly good creation, but one that ultimately highlights some of the show’s weaknesses. Is he the secondary lead or is it the underused ever-smiling Rannells who delivers with conviction? It feels like he should be there more, unpacking the demons that ultimately lead to the whole collapse, but he only shows up here and there, fulfilling his role, but he and his grand flaws get cast aside on a whim barely making a ripple, even with the dynamic “God’s House/Heritage USA” number solidifying his presence. The lyrics and the music are both sharp, powerful, and electric, but the book and the overall intent stumble by trying to cover far too much, while leaving important unpackings in those off-camera asides.

The epic range of Elton John’s music sings true, finding character and dynamic moments for each space. The songs are playful and expansive, yet sometimes lean on the generic. Musical supervisor and arranger Tom Deering (Regent’s Park Open Air’s Carousel) leads the seven-piece band strongly through the paces, elevating and supplying the landscape for these talented artists to rise up on with distinction. But it is Brayben, her power ballad voice, and her honest approach that solidifies the emotional heart and soul of this “See You In Heaven” splendor. She raises the roof, becoming the least cartoonish character in the show, which is a surprise, even as the material that is holding it together becomes worn out by all the stories it is trying to hold together.

Tammy’s drug dependency and Jim’s homosexual affair become almost casual asides, without much development or understanding. There is a beautifully touching moment when Tammy decides against everyone’s wishes to talk with and hug a gay pastor with AIDS on her television show, much to the chagrin of the two supposed friends of the Bakkers, Jan and Paul Crouch, hypnotically portrayed by the wonderful Amy Booth-Steel (RSC’s The Magician’s Elephant) and Richard Dempsey (West End’s Into the Woods). They are the secondary villains, Judases in bad clothes, wanting more power and the spotlight than they deserve. It’s there, in those moments of conflict when you realize that Tammy was some sort of rebellious trailblazer, in bad makeup, who believes in love, while also casually popping pills into her mouth like Tic-Tacs without much unpacking or understanding.

A cleaner line to the show’s heart and soul might be what’s needed, with alternate pathways and false side roads left for the movies or documentaries to unwind and delineate. The conversations around her marriage, her complicated drug use, the role she played in the financial mess, and her life after the fall from grace, get almost less airtime than Colonel Sanders (Dempsey) or Larry Flint (Caulfield). This decision leaves the convoluted Act Two swimming in too many currents to keep its head above water. Tammy Faye, the new musical needs a bit more time in the editing room before it is ready for Prime Time. I’m guessing that is the plan, to take some time now and fiddle with the seeds and the structure. Finding its core focus and main storyline. That framework is there, albeit unsorted, but with some clarity and determination, this fascinating musical study of this wildly wacky and wonderful woman could grow up big and strong, large enough to dazzle us all. Tammy Faye could be something worth tuning in to again, if it ever makes its way to the West End or Broadway in a stronger structure.

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My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to


Florence Welch, Martyna Majok, Rachel Chavkin and More On New Musical Gatsby Coming To A.R.T



Florence Welch Photo by De Wilde

Producers Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, Jordan Roth, and American Repertory Theater(A.R.T.) at Harvard University announced today that Gatsby, a brand-new musical stage adaptation of the legendary F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, will make its highly anticipated World Premiere at A.R.T. in 2024, and will be directed by Tony Award® winner Rachel Chavkin and choreographed by Tony Award winner Sonya Tayeh.

Rachel Chavkin Photo Credit Erik Tanner

Gatsby will feature music by Florence Welch, the Grammy Award-nominated international rock star of Florence + the Machine and Thomas Bartlett, the Oscar and Grammy Award nominee, with lyrics by Ms. Welch, and a book by Pulitzer Prize® winner Martyna Majok.

Martyna Majok by Josiah Bania

Gatsby will be produced at American Repertory Theater by special arrangement with Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, and Jordan Roth, in association with Robert Fox. Hannah Giannoulis serves as co-producer.

Sonya Tayeh

American Repertory Theater (Diane Paulus, Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director; Kelvin Dinkins, Jr., Executive Director) at Harvard University produces groundbreaking work to catalyze dialogue and transformation. Tony Award-winning and nominated productions include Jagged Little PillWaitressNatasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812; All the Way; The Glass Menagerie; Pippin; Once; and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Its revival of 1776, a co-production with Roundabout Theatre Company, is currently touring nationally. Learn more at

Thomas Bartlett Photo Credit York Tillyer

Additional Gatsby news will be announced soon.

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Reading For Hunter Bell, Jeff Bowen and Ann McNamee New Musical Other World



Other World, a new musical with an original score and story by Tony Award Nominee Hunter Bell (book), Obie Award winner Jeff Bowen (music and lyrics), and singer-songwriter and author Ann McNamee(music and lyrics) will present invite-only staged readings on Thursday, March 16 and Friday, March 17 at Open Jar Studios in New York City. With direction by Jenn Rapp (The Illusionists Director/Choreographer) and choreography by Karla Puno Garcia (Tick, Tick … BOOM! film, Kennedy Center Honors), Other World is being developed in creative consultation with the five-time Academy Award winning WĒTĀ Workshop (The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies).

Hunter Bell, Jeff Bowen and Ann McNamee

One moment Sri and Lorraine are in a garage on Earth. The next, they’re unexpectedly transported into Sri’s favorite video game, Other World. Now trapped in the game and in a race against the clock, this unlikely pair must work together, discover their inner strengths, and connect with gifted gamers and astonishing avatars in order to survive and find a way home. With art direction provided by Academy Award–winning Wētā Workshop (The Lord of the RingsAvatar), this heartfelt, humorous musical explores the connections we make on- and off-line, while celebrating the families and friendships we need to thrive in any world. Join us for this spectacular, original, otherwordly adventure. Your journey begins…now!

The cast features Micah Beauvais (Sri), Bella Coppola (Lorraine), Ryan Andes (Roman/Antagon), Madeleine Doherty (Myra), Kaden Kearney (Tris), Brandi Porter (Temula), Mikaela Secada (Jamie), with Sojouner Brown, Elena Camp, Sommer Carbuccia, Laura Dadap, Seth Rettberg, Sherisse Springer, Blake Stadnik, Levin Valayil, and Jason Williams.

The creative team for the developmental presentation also features music direction by Amanda Morton (KPOP), casting by Paul Hardt Casting (Once Upon A One More Time), video design by Khristian Bork (Coco live at the Hollywood Bowl, Danny Elfman – Coachella), sound design by Hidenori Nakajo (Octet), and general management by Alchemy Production Group (The Music Man, Come From Away).  The Executive Producer is Lauren Tucker/Alchemy Production Group.

For more information about the show, visit

Hunter Bell (Book) earned an OBIE Award, a Drama League nomination, a GLAAD Media nomination, and a Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical, all for the original Broadway musical [title of show]. Other credits include the books for Silence! The Musical (Lucille Lortel Nomination, Outstanding Musical), Now. Here. This. (Vineyard Theatre), Bellobration! (Ringling Bros. Circus), Villains Tonight! (Disney Cruise Lines), Found (Atlantic Theater, Drama Desk Nomination, Outstanding Book of a Musical), and Julie Andrews’ The Great American Mousical (Goodspeed). He is a co-creator of the web series “the [title of show] show” and has developed television with ABC Studios/ABC Television. Hunter is a proud graduate and distinguished alumnus of Webster University’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts, a member of the Dramatists Guild, Writers Guild, a MacDowell Fellow, and currently serves on the board of the Educational Theatre Association and Educational Theatre Foundation, national arts advocacy organizations representing theatre teachers and students.

Jeff Bowen (Music and Lyrics) wrote the music and lyrics for and starred in the Broadway musical [title of show] (OBIE Award) and Now. Here. This. Additionally, he has written music and lyrics for Now. Here. This. (Vineyard Theatre), Villains Tonight! (Walt Disney Company), and the theme songs for the web series “the [title of show] show” and “Squad ’85.” His songs can be heard on the original cast albums of [title of show], Now. Here. This., as well as Broadway Bares Openingsand Over the Moon: The Broadway Lullaby Project. He is a proud member of ASCAP, AEA, Writers Guild, Dramatists Guild, and the National Audubon Society. He serves as a faculty member of the National Theatre Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center.

Ann McNamee(Music and Lyrics) received a B.A. from Wellesley College and a Ph.D. in Music Theory from Yale University, leading to a twenty-year career in teaching, choral conducting, and music research at Swarthmore College. After retiring as Professor Emerita, Ann composed for, sang, played keys, and toured with the Flying Other Brothers and Moonalice, both bands led by her husband Roger McNamee. She composed the majority of the songs on the Moonalice album that was part of T Bone Burnett’s nomination for Producer of the Year at the 2009 Grammy Awards. For the Lilith Fair tour in 2010, she fronted the band Ann Atomic. Another highlight was opening up for U2 at the Oakland Coliseum in November 2011. She retired from touring in 2012 in order to collaborate on musical theater projects full-time. Ann’s outside interests include co-founding the Haight Street Art Center, a community center/poster music/print shop to celebrate rock poster art in the Bay Area.

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The Avett Brothers Musical Swept Away Sails Into Arena Stage This Fall



Swept Away, the new musical written by Tony Award winner John Logan (book) and “America’s biggest roots band” (Rolling Stone), The Avett Brothers (music and lyrics), was announced today as part of the  2023/24 season at Arena Stage, Washington, DC (Molly Smith, Artistic Director; Edgar Dobie, Executive Producer).  Performances will begin November 25 and will continue through December 30. Tony Award winner Michael Mayer will direct the production as he had last year in the musical’s sold-out world premiere at Berkeley Rep. The Arena Stage engagement will feature an updated score with additional, never-before-heard songs. Swept Away is produced by Special Arrangement with Matthew Masten, Sean Hudock, and Madison Wells Live.

Swept Away
 is set in 1888, off the coast of New Bedford, MA. When a violent storm sinks their whaling ship, the four surviving souls — a young man in search of adventure, his older brother who has sworn to protect him, a captain at the end of a long career at sea, and a worldly first mate who has fallen from grace — each face a reckoning: How far will I go to stay alive? And can I live with the consequences?

Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director Molly Smith and Executive Producer Edgar Dobie, is a national center dedicated to American voices and artists. Arena Stage produces plays of all that is passionate, profound, deep and dangerous in the American spirit, and presents diverse and ground-breaking work from some of the best artists around the country. Arena Stage is committed to commissioning and developing new plays and impacting the lives of over 10,000 students annually through its work in community engagement. Now in its eighth decade, Arena Stage serves a diverse annual audience of more than 300,000.

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