(RNS) — Tammy Faye, the iconic evangelist and television personality, is set to be immortalized in a new musical with a score from the legendary Elton John. The production, titled “Tammy Faye,” will debut at north London’s Almeida Theatre in October.
Tammy Faye Messner (formerly Bakker) is best known for founding the evangelical media empire PTL (Praise the Lord) with her then-husband, Jim Bakker. At their peak, the Bakkers oversaw their own satellite network, had an evangelical talk show with millions of viewers and even created a highly successful Christian theme park.
Their careers came crashing down in the late 1980s amid rumors of Tammy Faye’s drug addiction and allegations that Jim Bakker was guilty of sexual abuse. Jim Bakker was eventually convicted of 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy. Despite the accusations of vanity and consumerism that plagued her in the wake of the Bakkers’ public fall from grace, Tammy Faye, who died of cancer in 2007, also left behind a legacy of empathy and acceptance, especially for the LGBTQ community.
Her groundbreaking embrace of gay fans — plus her striking, layered makeup and campy aesthetic — earned Tammy Faye the title of gay icon. Appropriately, the show’s music comes from another gay icon, Elton John, who also penned the score for “The Lion King,” “Billy Elliott,” “Aida” and, most recently, “The Devil Wears Prada,” which premiered in Chicago earlier this month. “Tammy Faye” also features a script by James Graham, lyrics by Jake Shears and direction from Rupert Goold.
“Preaching to millions 24 hours a day, Tammy just wants to put the fun back into faith,” the show’s production information says. “But a new wave of ministers wants you not to just feel God in your heart, but in your homes, in your schools and in the law too.”
Audience members will likely recognize some names among the show’s cast of characters, which includes Jerry Falwell Sr., the prominent conservative Christian political figure and founder of Liberty University in Virginia, who is played by Zubin Varla. The show also stars Katie Brayben as Tammy Faye and Andrew Rannells, best known for originating the role of Elder Price in the Broadway hit “The Book of Mormon,” as Jim Bakker.
“We’re in a really interesting time regarding faith and belief, with the repealing of Roe v Wade in various [US] states and the return of the idea of faith-based morality or legislation,” Goold, the show’s director, told The Guardian. “There is talk that that may move towards gay marriage and parenting, and there’ll be a policing of civil liberties and people’s bodies. And it’s not without resonances over here.
“So although Tammy Faye is a historic story, and looks really at the birth of the prosperity gospel, it has something politically to say now.”
Tammy Faye was also the subject of a 2021 film starring Jessica Chastain, who won the Oscar for Best Actress for the role of Tammy Faye, and Andrew Garfield as Jim Bakker. Casting for the new musical was announced Tuesday (Aug. 23) and rehearsals begin this week, with performances scheduled to run from Oct. 14-Dec. 3. The Almeida Theatre website says the production will be a “testament of faith, resilience and the temptations of success.”