08 November 2022
4.0 out of 5.0 stars
As most of you know by now, I do love a good musical. So, when I heard that a musical with music by Elton John was heading to the Almeida, I had to go and check it out.
Tammy Faye, the musical, revolves around the person of the same name, who was a famous televangelist through the 70s and 80s in the USA, where she built one of the largest ministries to date through the Praise The Lord club, which grew into its own nationwide network and even built a Christian theme park to rival Disneyland for a few years. She fell from grace when her husband was accused and convicted of fraud and their ministry crumbled.
The musical follows along this story, from humble beginnings through massive success to public humiliation and a second wind as an LGBT+ icon. Tammy was very well known for her progressive and very accepting view on Christianity, extremely ahead of her time, and stood by gay people through the Aids crisis in the 80s, which was unheard of from a televangelist at the time. She was heavily criticised by other public religious figures for this, but staunchly insisted that the bible preaches love above all else.
Of course, due to the subject matter, I was prepared for the musical being a little Christianity centred, but I wasn’t prepared for the heavy handed amount of bible touting throughout. While the music is catchy, in typical Elton John manner, the songs mainly revolve around Jesus and god and heaven and salvation and love through faith. So rather than portraying a story about Tammy Faye, it very much bases its personality on praising Tammy herself and centering her personality over her life’s story.
I’m personally not sure if I want to excuse the actions of a televangelist who was involved in taking vulnerable people’s last penny, whether she knew about the fraud or not is quite irrelevant for me.
She is very much shown as a fantastic person and absolute hero throughout the show, which I’d personally disagree with when all things are considered. Sure, she took a bold stand against church doctrine and suffered because of it, but she was still involved in building the single most successful TV ministry in the 70s and 80s, which took millions of dollars from people, and I for one don’t want to forget about that part of her past. A gigantic ministry like that can only be built on the exploitation of vulnerable people by charismatic leaders.
But all those personal reservations aside, if you don’t mind a heavy amount of bible-based Jesus loving salvation talk, I can see how this show could be an inspiring and positive experience. Despite the downfall, which seems to be entirely blamed on Tammy’s husband in this show, there is so much positivity and love to go around. The songs are very upbeat, and Tammy is of course shown in her trademark glamour and eccentricity, the show is bright and loud and colourful and full of love, just like Tammy.
It’s not for me, but that doesn’t mean it won’t find its audience!