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Cara Joy David

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'Scandalous': An Amway Heir Enters the Broadway World

Posted: 08/20/2012 10:05 am

A couple of weeks ago, the Post's Michael Riedel wrote an amusing column about Chaplin and its funding source, a frozen food conglomerate. My favorite "producers" this season have nothing to do with Rich's, however; they sell fancier products, supposedly at least. Who am I talking about? Scandalous producers David & Betsy DeVos; David is the son of billionaire Amway founder Richard DeVos and Amway's former CEO.

It's hard getting money for a Broadway musical. Despite the recent success of Once, no one thinks a Broadway musical is a great investment. So ridiculously rich people need to be involved. Long ago the wealthy were often content to act as nameless investors; now they increasingly want a producing credit. And so, Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson, is, according to press releases for the show, officially "produced by Dick and Betsy DeVos, Foursquare Foundation and Jeffrey Finn, Executive Producer, in association with The 5th Avenue Theatre."

The DeVos' have a charity (which bears their name, of course) that reportedly is focused on providing funds to religious groups and organizations that encourage free-market economies. Dick DeVos is also known for launching an unusually expensive -- and ultimately failed -- bid for Michigan governor. Amway, a direct-selling company, is known for producing a lot of different products, and has been coincidentally promoted a few times on Today, which Scandalous librettist and lyricist Kathie Lee Gifford hosts. (In addition to the company itself, Gifford has also lauded ArtPrize, which was founded by Rick DeVos and sponsored by Amway and the Dick & Betty DeVos Family Foundation.)

From its website, Foursquare Foundation appears to exist to give grants to churches, ministries and related projects, and I guess musicals, though those aren't mentioned.

The 5th Avenue Theater is where Scandalous, previously called both Hurricane Aimee and Saving Aimee at various points in its development, most recently ran. The theater's executive producer and artistic director, David Armstrong, is making his Broadway directorial debut with the musical.

Then there is Jeffrey Finn, a Broadway producer with Tony nominations to his name. Finn, as referenced above, has the title of "executive producer," a title not commonly featured in Broadway press releases. (When it is seen, it is typically a title given to a general manager.) In this case I think it means: producer who, in theory, knows what he is doing. Word around town is that Finn simply signed up the investors who Gifford suggested and committed to producing the show for a fee. Recently however I heard he had a more active role in securing investors and monitoring the show's development. (I'll save for another post the rumors regarding whether Gifford has her own money in the tuner.) Whatever the truth is -- and I suspect it will never be known -- Finn is the one producer who will take a reputation-related hit if the show bombs.

And, while I hope Scandalous is a success, I have my doubts. The show premiered at the White Plains Performing Arts Center in 2005. Except when it played at Virginia's Signature Theater Company in 2007, that was billed as a world premiere. I never understood this because I was invited as a journalist in 2005 and not told it was a workshop production, but, moving on. No materials for the show even acknowledge the existence of the White Plains mounting, but I was there, so I know it happened. It was in a mall. Seriously. I ran down to Target at intermission. I also saw the Signature mounting in 2007.

Now the show has a new director, Armstrong, in place of Eric Schaeffer. Perhaps the years and the new helmer have helped it. I'm hoping it finds the success of Memphis, which I saw prior to Christopher Ashley taking over. The major Seattle reviews were not encouraging (see Variety and the Seattle Times), but you never know. I hope it is a hit both because I root for almost all shows and because Carolee Carmello deserves it. Carmello, who is consistently wonderful, still does not have a Tony Award. She really is a huge talent, adding dignity to everything she does (even Mamma Mia). She was -- and I'm assuming still is -- amazing in this role. This could be her year.

So, good luck Dick DeVos, Bob Rich Jr., and anyone else who wants to join the Broadway community. Your back story provides us fodder, and your money helps employ theater professionals. What more could I ask for?

 
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