Whoever’s responsible for the show’s essential unmusicality, Carmello bears its primary burden, called upon as she is to give one of those I-will-survive all-out vocal finishes to nearly every number in which she’s involved. Though she has the taste to refrain from aggressive audience-wooing, the net effect is still to make Sister Aimee seem less a woman driven by complex inner needs than a desperately needy washed-up pop star attempting a comeback. (McPherson is credited with additional music, but the show offers little clue to what the singing at her services actually sounded like; the show’s sense of period is almost nil.)
Less weighed down by the creators’ ill-conceived demands, some of Carmello’s colleagues fare better. George Hearn plays Aimee’s put-upon father with charmingly weary patience, and holds his own effectively as one of her truculent opponents in L.A. Candy Buckley, essentially restricted by the role of Aimee’s carping mother to one harsh note, still manages to give it some shading. Edward Watts and Andrew Samonsky, cast in two roles apiece as various husbands and wooers of the charismatic heroine, supply a variety and distinction that entitle them to roles in much better musicals.
Carolee Carmello and Kathy Lee Gifford evangelize on the Great White Way
By Kathie Lee Gifford, music by David Pomranz and David Friedman
Neil Simon Theatre
250 West 52nd Street
And then there’s Roz Ryan, playing the whorehouse madam who’s saved by Sister Aimee and goes on to become a character annoyingly inevitable these days: the white heroine's black best friend and general factotum, furnishing worldly wisdom, spicy humor, mystical devotion, and up-tempo singing. Ryan, who handles its every cliched moment with genuine feeling, good humor, and flair, deserves a medal. She doesn’t even fuss over the inadequate script, getting her biggest laugh on a vocalized pause. When I want to make money in the theater, I will write out a grocery list and hire Roz Ryan to recite it onstage. She could probably get enough laughs from that grocery list to keep us sold out for at least six months—more time, I suspect, than she and her colleagues will be spending on Broadway in Scandalous.