Review Round Up: Tammy Faye: A New Musical, Almeida Theatre

Discover what is being said about Elton John’s new musical, bringing the story of Tammy Faye to the stage.

(c)Marc Brenner

The Guardian: **** “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”. It is not that the music is weak – although its sound is so distinctive there is a sense the actors are impersonating Elton John. But there are so many songs that Graham’s dazzling dialogue is sometimes edged aside. Shears’s beautiful lyrics (“I feel like a torn dress you can’t mend,” sings Tammy Faye, after Bakker admits to infidelity) seem swamped by the music too.”

Variety: “You can take anything and write a song about it. Whether it needs singing about is another question entirely. On the evidence of multitudes of recent musicals, it’s one too few creative teams bother to ask. The great news about “Tammy Faye” — the new musical now premiering at the Almeida Theatre in London — is that composer Elton John, lyricist Jake Shears and bookwriter James Graham buck that depressing trend. They 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.”

The Telegraph: *** “It isn’t a hell of a show, more surprisingly purgatorial at too many points, struggling to find a strong dramatic pulse.”

The Independent: **** “Rupert Goold’s production at the Almeida about the televangelist, with music by Elton John, is gloriously OTT and packed with great performances.”

Time Out: **** “Brayben is one of the most charming actors in musical theatre, best known for her Olivier-winning turn as Carole King in the West End’s ‘Beautiful’. She brings the same lovable peppiness here, but Faye is a much richer, weirder, more complicated character. Throughout, Brayben keeps us convinced of Faye’s essential decency.”

The Arts Desk: **** “Plenty of heart and bite in a show illuminated by Katie Brayben’s compelling performance.”

Evening Standard: **** “Turning this story into a musical heightens its absurdity. There is a knowing snicker to the anthem He’s Inside Me: other songs like He Promised Me and Look How Far We’ve Fallen are hilariously scathing. Brayben clucks around like a bright-plumaged hen until required to unleash her devastating, powerhouse voice, most notably on the penultimate number If You Came to See Me Cry. Talking heads, including Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Runcie, pop out of the bank of TV screens that dominates Bunny Christie’s set.”

All That Dazzles: **** “Ultimately, Tammy Faye is a simply glorious musical. Fantastic staging and incredible music already ensures this is an exciting production, but it’s the sensational performances from Katie Brayben and Andrew Rannells that really turns it into something phenomenal. Like the real people it is based on, the show is not without its flaws, with act 2 slightly weaker than the first and perhaps an over-reliance on the same tricks of the set design which can lose impact after the 10th occurrence.. Overall, however, what the team have created here is something Godly.”

Broadway World: *** “Rupert Goold directs a sanitised tale of faith, love, and financial fraud with a cast led by Andrew Rannells and Katie Brayben as the Bakkers – the couple who changed the face of American Christianity by broadcasting “24 hours per day, seven days a week until the second coming” in the 70s and 80s. It’s a camp production, clearly pre-packaged for the West End, that’s too abridged in its retelling of the story to hit the mark.”

iNews: **** “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.”

Culture Whisper: *** “To those familiar with the playwright’s work, Tammy Faye will run like a James Graham play with songs. He ticks off the noteworthy moments in this story, fabricating interactions for our benefit and hamming up the humour. But coupled with Lynne Page’s happy-clappy choreography, which in one wince-worthy scene sees the cast dance a clunky conga, this show feels like a liberal elite-style belittling of the Bakkers’ once seriously influential and corrupt platform, that masked its misdeeds under the friendly face of Christianity.”

The Stage: *** “James Graham, Elton John and Jake Shears unite to deliver an exuberant musical about America’s glittering prophets, Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker.”

Tammy Faye will play at the Almeida Theatre  until the 3rd December.

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