Theatre Review - Tammy Faye

TAMMY Faye (Katie Brayben), the American evangelist singer, shot to fame with her husband Jim Bakker (Andrew Rannells) in the 1970s as founders of a Christian TV talk show, the PTL (Praise the Lord) Club.

They effectively brought the church into people’s homes. Co-hosts of the televangelist programme, the pair included cookery, homilies and cosy sofa chats with the likes of Larry Flynt and Ronald Reagan as part of their repertoire. At the height of their success they were preaching to millions every day.

Other televangelists, including Jerry Falwell (Zubin Varla), were jealous of their “market share” and plotted ways to unseat the couple. But Faye and Bakker’s own ambition (and greed) precipitated their downfall.

Initially deferring to her husband, Faye proved to have more onscreen charisma than Bakker. By the 1980s, she had her own show on prime-time TV and unexpectedly became a gay icon after sympathetically interviewing Steve Pieters, a young pastor with HIV.

However, none of this could save her when their empire crumbled along with their reputations. Bakker was convicted of fraud in 1989 – for mis-selling and misusing funds raised on air – and dragged Faye’s name through the mud with him.

Rupert Goold’s production is big, bold and brash. Turning Faye’s story into a musical with a score by Elton John, lyrics by Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears and book by James Graham, is an inspired move.

Brayben has a stunning voice and a presence that lights up the stage. Rannells is spot on as her geeky, philandering husband and Varla also impresses as the malcontent.

Bunny Christie’s set features a television production studio with a back wall of monitors through which characters pop up to comment on the proceedings. Katrina Lindsay’s fantastic costumes effectively signpost each era from the 1960s to the 80s.

A feelgood musical extravaganza about deeply flawed characters.

Until December 3

Originally published by Camden New Journal