New Elton John musical Tammy Faye Bakker underway in London


Andrew Rannells as Jim Baker and Katie Brayben as the title role in ‘Tammy Faye’, the new musical which debuted in London in October. Elton John wrote the music for the show.

Tammy Faye Bakker’s revival shows no signs of slowing down.

In fact, it was none other than superstar singer/songwriter Elton John who came up with the idea to base a musical on the late former televangelist. The project has been in the making for ten years.

Bakker chaired the Charlotte-area PTL religious television empire with her then-husband Jim Bakker in the 1970s and 1980s, and was well known for her big makeup, big eyelashes and big heart. . This empire finally crumbled under the weight of the scandals that landed Jim Bakker in prison.

But if you want to see the new show, you’ll have to cross the Atlantic: the world premiere of “Tammy Faye” took place at the Ameida Theater in London. After nearly two weeks of previews, opening night took place on October 26 and is set to run until December 3.

The musical follows last year’s high-profile biopic, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” which was filmed in the Charlotte area and won Jessica Chastain an Oscar for the title role. And this film was inspired by a 2000 documentary of the same name.

Like John, Bakker is an icon in the gay community. When few in the evangelical community wanted to have anything to do with people with AIDS in the 1980s, she warmly interviewed an HIV-positive gay pastor on the PTL show. John, who is gay, started an AIDS foundation which is now in its 30th year.

From left, during a rehearsal for ‘Tammy Faye’, the musical’s creative team: director Rupert Goold, writer James Graham, music composer Elton John and lyricist Jack Shears. Marc Brenner

Most recently, he was in Charlotte on September 18 as part of his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road/The Final Tour”. John remains on tour and was unavailable to answer questions from the Observer, a spokeswoman said.

But on opening night, he tweeted: “Wishing all the cast and crew of #TammyFaye the best of luck on tonight’s press night at [email protected]! Sorry I can’t be there but I’m sure you’ll break your leg!”

All About ‘Tammy Faye’ the Musical

James Graham, who wrote the screenplay, told The Guardian newspaper in the UK that the Bakkers’ story is “almost biblical…one of fame, greed and redemption”. Here are some key things to know about the show:

The parcel: The musical focuses on the rise of televangelism in the United States, with the Bakkers getting their own TV show, and their subsequent rise and fall, said Alexander Milward, head of press and public relations at the Almeida Theater, in an email interview with The Charlotte Observer. .

Elton John at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte during his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour on September 17. He wrote the music for all the songs in the musical “Tammy Faye”. Melissa Melvin Rodriguez [email protected]

The creative team: John has a number of other musical theater credits, including composing scores for “The Lion King” and “Aida”. He also adapted “The Devil Wears Prada” for the stage. The lyrics to “Tammy Faye” are by Grammy-nominated vocalist Jake Shears from the band Scissor Sisters. Rupert Goold, artistic director of the Almeida theatre, directed “Tammy Faye”. And Graham, the book’s author, has written more than a dozen shows, including “Finding Neverland.”

The stars: Katie Brayben plays Tammy Faye and Andrew Rannels is Jim Bakker. Brayben won Britain’s top theater award, an Olivier, for “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” Rannels received Tony Award nominations for her roles in the Broadway shows “The Book of Mormon” and “Falsettos,” and starred in the television show “Girls.”

Andrew Rannells as Jim Baker and Katie Brayben as the title role of “Tammy Faye” in the new musical. Marc Brenner

Songs. John and Shears collaborated on 18 songs, including “Satellite of God”, “Bring Me the Face of Tammy Baker”, “Look How Far We’ve Fallen”, and “If You Came to See Me Cry”. Graham told the Guardian he sometimes heard musical riffs in the score that reminded him of 70s Elton John: an audience will really find it so exciting.

The Charlotte Observer connection: One of the characters in the series is “Charles Shepherd”, an Observer reporter investigating allegations of fraud against Jim Bakker. In real life, Charles Shepard led the Observer’s coverage of Jim Bakker’s financial mismanagement and affair with former church secretary Jessica Hahn. These stories helped bring down PTL and the Bakkers, and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988.

Other Carolina connections: Some of the musical’s sets appear to mirror the former PTL studio in Fort Mill, South Carolina. Additional characters in the series include Hahn as well as Reverend Billy Graham. (The actor who plays him, Peter Caulfield, also appears as “Larry Flint” and Pontius Pilate in “Tammy Faye.”)

Other characters: After divorcing Jim Bakker, Tammy Faye later married entrepreneur Roe Messner, but he is not a character on the show. Jerry Falwell, Pope, Jesus and Colonel Sanders, however, all make an appearance.

Zubin Varla as Jerry Falwell in a scene from the musical “Tammy Faye” Marc Brenner

One more thing : The show’s logo is a pair of eyes with gold eyeshadow and black mascara, makeup dripping with microphones and dollars. (In 2005, Tammy Faye told the Today show that losing her trademark eyelashes during her battle with cancer was liberating. “I realized I wasn’t just eyelashes,” a- (she said, adding that she had pasted fake ones. “A person is more than just what you look like on the outside.” She died of cancer two years later.)

Reviews, and what’s next for ‘Tammy Faye’

As in life, “Tammy Faye” the musical received mixed reviews.

A few UK critics gave it four out of five stars, with The Guardian praising “Elton John’s anthem to biblical kitcsch” while The Independent touted it as “camp, cutesy and hard to resist”.

And called it “a holy hoot.” The NY Post, however, felt the show needed some prayers for help.

Still, tickets sold well, Milward said, and there are few seats left for the show to run.

Katie Brayben as Tammy Faye Bakker. Back row from left are PTL singers Robyn Rose, Georgia Louise and Kelly Agbowu, in a scene from the musical ‘Tammy Faye’. Marc Brenner

When asked if ‘Tammy Faye’ could possibly be transferred to Broadway, Milward said: “At this point the focus is on racing the Almeida, but of course it would be fantastic if the show have a future life.”

Meanwhile, there is one criticism that had particular resonance.

One of the Bakkers’ children, Jay Bakker, recently flew to London to see the show.

On Instagram, he gave his take on the musical, praising Brayben’s moving portrayal and noting, “Sometimes I was tempted to get out of my seat and run out onto the stage just to give my mom one last kiss. “

The real Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker at PTL in 1986. Observer file photo

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Award-winning journalist Adam Bell has worked for The Charlotte Observer since 1999 in a variety of reporting and editing roles. He is currently a business editor and an arts editor. The Philly native and U.Va. grad is also a big fan of cheesesteaks and showtunes.

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