Praise Be, Kathie Lee! Daytime Dame Puts the ‘Fun’ Back in Fundamentalism with Scandalous

Lately, after the silly stuff is done, she’s been bolting from the studio and rushing off to the theater for frantic revisions. “Sometimes they make changes, and you’re like, ‘Really? I liked the old way,’” Ms. Carmello told The Observer, after announcing that she had just a few hours to memorize a new monologue. Ms. Gifford had determined that using stagecraft to show Aimee first hearing the voice of God just wouldn’t work. Instead, Ms. Carmello would have to describe it. (“We are breaking the cardinal rule of Theater 101: ‘Show, don’t tell,’” Ms. Gifford admitted later.)

For a woman who must start every day on live television, her focus is impressive. “She sat there in a chair and was so quiet and giving to the performers,” director David Armstrong said of a cabaret performance he attended with Ms. Gifford, “and it was so clear to me she wasn’t just there to be famous. She was there because this is what she was most interested in.” Mr. Armstrong jumped aboard after the Seattle production at his 5th Avenue Theatre, which has a track record as a launchpad for Broadway shows (including Hairspray and Memphis, both Tony-winning Best Musicals); this is his first Broadway production. In addition to the Foursquare Foundation, Scandalous’s producers include Dick and Betsy DeVos, heirs to the fortune of Amway founder Richard DeVos, and Great White Way veteran Jeffrey Finn. (In an interview with the Associated Press, Ms. Gifford claimed that the Foursquare Foundation had no input into the content of the show and that many affiliated with the church were angry that the show existed.)

Like many writers before her, Ms. Gifford has occasionally tried to muscle her way into the directorial process, Ms. Carmello said. “They don’t want her to, because it’s not the chain of command, but if it were up to her, she’d talk to all the actors, ‘Give that word a little punch!’” she said. “She’s been scolded for it. She gets frustrated, sitting out there, because she’s got ideas for how best to play things.”

During a recent preview performance, the front few rows were packed with middle-age ladies and patient husbands, an audience of people who were, judging by their eager chatter, significantly more interested in the show’s writer than its subject matter; Ms. Gifford greeted the fans at intermission, blessing them all for coming.

“You come into their home,” she said later. “They’re naked sometimes, or they’re getting ready, they’re in bed, or they’re in their kitchen—I can’t see what they’re doing. I just know they’re out there. And you become their friend, because they start to trust you. You maintain your credibility. You don’t change. With everything changing, this is something they can count on, that they can hang on to. If I did a porno, I’d lose 45 years of credibility. They’d be stunned. I’d get new fans, let’s be honest! But it’d be so disingenuous.”

If Scandalous is a hit, Kathie Lee Gifford will find a measure of redemption after all of the teasing and snark. And if not, there’s always the Old Testament for inspiration. As she put it: “All of the 4,000 years of Jewish history is about getting the Promised Land, losing the Promised Land, getting promised the Promised Land, going back to the Promised Land and screwing it up again! It’s human nature. And that’s why I love studying it so much.”

Praise Be, Kathie Lee! Daytime Dame Puts the ‘Fun’ Back in Fundamentalism with <em>Scandalous</em>