Kathie Lee’s Scandalous quest.  The iconic performer and talk show host spent a good part of the last dozen years inching toward bringing Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson to the Great White Way.  She wrote both the lyrics and the book for the highly-anticipated musical. David Pomeranz and David Friedman wrote the music. Finally, the result of their work is in previews at the Neil Simon Theatre, set for an official opening of on Thursday, November 15th.

I recently checked out one of the preview performances and can report to you that it’s a rousing, thought-provoking and, ultimately, inspirational portrait of one of the most influential and enigmatic religious leaders of the 2oth century. It’s a role brought spectacularly to life by Carolee Carmello, the Broadway actress known for her roles in such productions as Sister Act, The Addams Family and Mamma Mia!

Afterward, I sat down for a wide-ranging chat with Kathie Lee, the highlights of which you can read below the video about Aimee Semple McPherson’s legacy — built before a scandal involving an allegedly faked kidnapping and a torrid love affair threatened to destroy everything she worked to create.

JWK: What drew you to Aimee’s story?

KATHIE LEE GIFFORD: Well, anybody that’s heard Aimee’s story is drawn to her because it’s such an extraordinary story. When I first heard about her 40 years ago when I was at college, I couldn’t believe the life she had led…I just remember thinking that’s impossible. What kind of a woman in the 1920′s could have done that when women didn’t even have the vote…And then I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my own career in the 1970′s and because Los Angeles is where her temple had been and so much of her life had taken place, I started hearing all kinds of stories about her and I didn’t know what was true or wasn’t true. I just knew that this was quite an extraordinary woman to be talked about in such legendary terms so many years after she had passed away. It just got my attention and the more I studied about her the more fascinated I became. I went to Jack Hayford‘s church at Church On the Way in Los Angeles and he had gone to her Bible college. Then later I was dating Frank (Gifford) when I moved to New York and I was talking about her and he goes “Oh, yeah, I went to her temple when I was a kid.” He had been in a Pentecostal family and as a 12-year-old kid had gone to Aimee’s temple on Sunday’s when his dad was working at the shipyards during World War II.  And then I found the connection with Aimee’s daughter — that her husband had been the creator of Name That Tune (the game show) that I got my big break on.

KLG: I don’t believe in coincidence. I just think that all things work together for good — Romans 8:28 — and I just felt like I was meant to write this.
JWK: So, you really felt called to do this?
KLG:  I wouldn’t have spent 12 years of my life doing it (if I didn’t). It wasn’t a non-stop 12 years but the journey — from the first song to being here talking to you right now — was 12 years and nobody does that unless they feel called to it.
JWK: So, you had the idea about 12 years ago?
KLG: Well, I had the idea that she would make a wonderful musical. I never dreamed that I would be the one that would end up writing the book for it. I was just writing the lyrics for the songs and then it was only when I couldn’t find anybody else to write the book (that) I decided to write it by default.
JWK: How did you find the time between hosting TV shows and all the other things you have going on?
KLG: I’m post-menopausal. I have nothing but time. Post-menopausal do not sleep. You obviously don’t know one. We get about three hours of sleep a night and the rest of the time we have to do something productive with our time.
JWK: Is it difficult to be an open Christian while working in the mainstream media?
KLG: No.  Why would it be difficult when He’s done so much for me…The Scripture is quite clear about what happens when we can’t stand up and be bold for Him. I’m grateful He gives me the strength to be. I count it as glory, I count it as grace.
JWK: It seems like you’re getting better press now but you’ve been through some pretty difficult times where it seemed like you were judged by the media. Does that help you relate to Aimee more?
KLG: I think so, yeah. Having been accused of something myself, publicly, that was not true and feeling this frustration in not being able to get the truth out there.
JWK: You’re talking about the sweatshop allegations.

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