Reviews are coming in for Tammy Faye – A New Musical at the Almeida Theatre in North London.
Tammy Faye – A New Musical stars Olivier Award-winner Katie Brayben (Beautiful) as Tammy Faye and Tony Award-nominee and Broadway star Andrew Rannells (The Book of Mormon, Girls), as her husband Jim.
The highly anticipated musical looks at the true story of rise and fall of US TV evangelists Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker, who revolutionised religion in America, preaching to millions 24 hours a day.
This wholly original new show arrives with an amazing pedigree, with music by Elton John (Disney’s The Lion King), lyrics by Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters, and a book by acclaimed playwright and screenwriter James Graham (Best of Enemies, Ink, BBC’s Sherwood). It is directed by Almeida artistic director Rupert Goold.
Other cast includes Olivier Award-nominee Zubin Varla (Fun Home) as Jerry Falwell, Kelly Agbowu, Amy Booth-Steel, Ashley Campbell, Peter Caulfield, Danny Collins, Richard Dempsey, Fred Haig, Georgia Louise, Robyn Rose, Nicholas Rowe, Martin Sarreal, Steve John Shepherd and Gemma Sutton.
The creative team includes Choreographer Lynne Page, Designer Bunny Christie, Costume Designer Katrina Lindsay, Lighting Designer Neil Austin and Sound Designer Bobby Aitken.
The show is running at the Almeida to 3 December 2022.
More reviews to follow.
Tammy Faye – A New Musical reviews
"Feels too much by numbers and lacks revelations"
"It isn’t a hell of a show in the wrong sense, but it’s surprisingly purgatorial at points, struggling to find a strong dramatic pulse"
"This slickly staged piece cuts, with argumentative force but not enough serrated wit or charged emotion, to the chase of how the channel emerged and became the envy of more conservative ministers, who swooped after the couple’s finances unravelled, and the law got involved – their nemesis being Jerry Fulwell, who wangled a take-over."
"The first half lacks soulful belters, redemption only achieved in a ballad called Empty Hands and then a handful of wonderfully vigorous gospel and spiritual numbers in the mid second half. In the lead Katie Braben is sunnily forceful, touchingly fragile and, gifted of voice, uplifting in her survivor’s anthem at the close, but didn’t the real-life Tammy have more crankiness than we’re shown? "
"Not much to praise the Lord about in Elton’s show"
"She was a larger-than-life figure, yet Tammy Faye Bakker emerges as a cipher with lots of lipstick in this tepid new musical from Elton John."
"for all Katie Brayben’s efforts in the title role, this show — a decade in the making and fitted with serviceable lyrics by the Scissor Sisters star Jake Shears — trundles from one set-piece to another."
"Part of the problem lies with the book by that fine playwright James Graham, which flits here and there, packing in so many characters that Tammy Faye and Jim become bystanders in their own story."
"Andrew Rannells, of The Book of Mormon fame, does what he can with the bland and slender role of Jim. Zubin Varla makes an impressively reptilian Jerry Falwell. All in all, the playfully transgressive mood is reminiscent of Jerry Springer: The Opera, only without that show’s vicious satirical energy."
"Elton John’s lacking ‘Tammy Faye’ musical needs a prayer"
"John’s new show doesn’t deserve the fire and brimstone that “Prada” got, but you won’t walk out praising Jesus either.
"Directed by Rupert Goold, the master of slick British exports such as “Ink,” “King Charles III” and the “American Psycho” musical, the shallow “Tammy Faye” never comes to understand its endlessly fascinating main character. Nor does it make much of an attempt. It is an unsatisfying surface-level examination of an icon."
"The show is an Ikea-style, factory-like, goofy “It’s a Small World After All” of American and church-goer stereotypes (they love that here) delivered by purposefully robotic actors, which is palatable to a point. But eventually we crave to grasp why Tammy Faye mattered, feel why she was so unique and realize why we are watching a nearly three-hour musical about scored by the singer-songwriter of “Tiny Dancer.”
"That much-needed hallelujah moment, I’m afraid, never arrives."
"Elton John’s new musical is a joyously camp tribute to the oddball US televangelist, with a storming book by James Graham"
"‘Tammy Faye’ is very much the creation of playwright James Graham, who wrote the book."
"... it’s also the first big biographical musical I’ve seen since ‘Hamilton’ where the writer was clearly allowed a free hand, and not simply forced into writing a hagiography by the subject’s estate"
"Throughout, Brayben keeps us convinced of Faye’s essential decency. And she is an absolutely phenomenal singer"
"Basically, it’s a terrific piece of entertainment written by the country’s biggest playwright, with songs by Elton John and the guy from the Scissor Sisters. This surely isn’t the last we’ve heard of Tammy Faye."
"Praise be, it’s a religious riot"
"This musical is a carnivalesque takedown of something rotten"
"Katie Brayben plays the titular TV preacher with eyes full of sympathetic tears, lungs of steel, and a wardrobe and wigs from the ninth circle of hell."
"The madcap, cartoonish energy of Rupert Goold’s production sugars the serious point that religious corruption and political influence is very much still alive in America, and elsewhere."
"You can sometimes hear Shears reaching for rhymes in his lyrics, it’s true. And none of the characters is truly three-dimensional. But that’s not the point. This is a carnivalesque takedown of something rotten."
"Elton John’s hymn to biblical kitsch"
"Songs belt out deliriously in this romp through rise and fall of the Bakker televangelists and latterday gay icons – so thick and fast the James Graham script and Jake Shears lyrics are sometimes overwhelmed by glitz"
"... it pulls out all the stops to stage a show as glittery as these starry names. Infectious in its music, exuberant in its performances and gloriously kitsch in its aesthetic, it is stylishly pulled together by director Rupert Goold."
"... Tammy Faye does have the best solo numbers and Brayben has a turbocharged voice that belts them out to awesome effect. Rannells is as strong, morphing from lovable klutz to flawed, tortured soul."
"The songs progress the story rather than illustrating it, but John’s music begins to overwhelm Graham’s script, which is so good we half wish this were Tammy Faye “the play” over “the musical”"
"This is, without doubt, a musical with charisma, just like Tammy Faye herself. In its biggest moments – and there are several – it reaches a delirious kind of excellence."
"Camp, cutesy and hard to resist"
"Rupert Goold’s production at the Almeida about the televangelist, with music by Elton John, is gloriously OTT and packed with great performances"
"Tammy Faye Bakker may not deliver you to Jesus, but it is a whole lot of fun."
"Naturally, the show is camp. And when I say camp, at one point it features a tapdancing Jesus in gold pants"
"Despite its larger-than-life subject matter, the show is surprisingly conventional. Graham’s book has witty lines and some compelling themes"
"Ultimately, it’s hard to resist such a winning, hard-working cast"
"New musical about the iconic televangelist takes you halfway to heaven"
"This new musical, with book by playwright James Graham and songs by Elton John and Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters, is a surface-skimming romp – Evita meets Jerry Springer: The Opera, by way of RuPaul’s Drag Race"
"... the show, directed by Rupert Goold with a vim and stylishness that can’t quite disguise its shortage of substance, lacks Graham’s usual incisive wit and grip"
"Best, then, to enjoy it on its own superficial terms. Brayben gives a powerhouse performance in the title role... She and Rannells are a hugely entertaining double act"
"Hallelujah! Elton John’s new musical is a riot"
"The pop legend joins forces with the Scissor Sisters’s Jake Shears and playwright James Graham to explore the peculiar world of American televangelism"
"Goold directs with his customary brio, the ensemble is top-notch as they flit between supporting characters and designer Bunny Christie’s bank of television screens allows for unexpected figures to pop up"
"The music is strong and catchy; “He’s Inside Me” (sample lyric “He’s inside women and he’s inside men”) is a cheekily suggestive encomium to the Lord and “He Promised Me” is delivered by Brayben as an impassioned foot-stomper of betrayal"
"Praise the Lord for ‘Tammy Faye’"
"A new musical about the life of the televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, composed by Elton John, makes spectacular entertainment from a righteous subject."
"... the show has a heart as big as the title character’s bouffant hairdo"
"Rupert Goold’s vigorous production is also an increasing London rarity: a musical with an original score at a time when most repackage existing hits... it’s a relief to report that “Tammy Faye” is, for the most part, spectacularly entertaining, even if it could do with some trims and the toning down of a few tasteless sections."
"ohn’s score throughout is a savvy amalgam of country twang and rousing pop-rock ensemble numbers. The musical, as expected, has campy fun with its subject, but doesn’t condescend, and Graham’s canny script always places the Bakkers in the historical context of a larger conservative movement whose presence is felt to this day."
"Through it all, Brayben displays such fervor and commitment in the title role that you fall under the sway not just of Tammy Faye, but of a performer giving her career-enhancing all to a part that Brayben was born — Tammy Faye would surely say destined — to play."
"New Elton John Score Doesn’t Yet Live Up to a Terrifically Entertaining Production"
"... composer Elton John, lyricist Jake Shears and bookwriter James Graham... spotted the fact that using singing to tell the story of a passionate entertainer who traded on grand-scale emotions makes total theatrical sense. Their show doesn’t yet completely deliver on that extremely promising premise, but it’s already riotously entertaining."
"In Katrina Lindsay amusingly hideous 1970s suits, all-smiling Andrew Rannells is on winning form as Jim Bakker, charged up with unbreakable conviction"
"as in “Billy Elliot” and most of “The Lion King,” John’s theater writing is worryingly generic, despite the wide variety of forms it mimics. It lacks anchoring, memorable individuality. He supplies what’s needed, but without distinctive qualities the songs only really work because the performances transcend the material."
"As the effect of the performances fade away, you realize that although it’s terrific entertainment, it’s not yet a terrific musical."
"Elton John’s delirious glitz-bomb of a musical"
"With book by James Graham and lyrics from Jake Shears, the show about a televangelist is a camp riot"
"while Rupert Goold’s production barrels along with all the ungovernable energy of a roller-disco high on hairspray, at its heart is a serious point about an ungodly mix of populism, politics and preaching that remains with us today."
"It all gets a bit bogged down and bitty in act two and not many songs follow you home. What goes missing in the frenzy is the character depth and tougher scrutiny that would make this truly illuminating. But it is a riot of show, at its heart a timely, defiant message about love and tolerance."
"Elton John helps put the fun into fundamentalism"
"The singer teams up with James Graham and the Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears is this joyful lampooning of America’s notorious TV preachers"
"Ushers sit through numerous performances and you suspect they must become pretty hardened to a show’s merits. Yet as the excellent Katie Brayben opened her lungs for If You Came to See Me Cry, giving vent to the dying defiance of her character Tammy Faye Bakker, the usher was caught up in the moment."
"And the music? Elton’s piano chords are immediately distinctive and there is no shortage of middle-of-the-road rooty-tootyness. But the best songs come at the slower, less jaunty moments, the best of them being the one that made the usher cry."
"Katie Brayben nails the title role as Tammy Faye in a musical otherwise lacking edge"
"He [James Graham] has faltered though not fallen, alongside Elton John, with Tammy Faye. This musical exploration of the rise and fall of the televangelist who, allotted a satellite network by Ted Turner, aimed to “put the Faye into faith” and the “fun into fundamentalism”, is given plenty of pizzazz by director Rupert Goold, but it doesn’t skewer."
"John, who made one of the best ever musicals in Billy Elliot, here does dutiful rather than divine work"
"... there is, along with a good turn from Andrew Rannells as the smug-but-uncertain husband who begins as the main attraction and becomes the backing group, a tremendous performance from Katie Brayben."
"Graham steers the plot towards excoriation of the far right but the evening lacks threat. Goold’s production speeds along on bright cameos – Billy Graham is a swivel-hipped wonder, more Elvis than evangelist – and some overcooked satirical pop-ups. The comparison haunting the show is with the great satire on moral telly, Jerry Springer: The Opera. There, the grubbier the action the more sublime the music. Those extremities and their"
"Rupert Goold’s production delivers on many fronts"
"Music by Elton John, lyrics by Scissor Sisters' Jake Shears and book by James Graham - with a pedigree like this, what could possibly go wrong?"
"The problem is Graham tries to stuff a pantechnicon-load of material into an overnight bag – the role of Christian media, financial chicanery, religious rivalry, sexual incontinence, political affiliations (such as Falwell’s endorsement of Ronald Reagan) as well as the Bakkers’ own disintegrating marriage. Inevitably, Tammy herself gets sidelined when she should – like Evita – take centre stage throughout."