I was first introduced to Tammy Faye via an impersonation on a 'Snatch Game' episode of RuPaul's Drag Race! Perhaps better known stateside than this side of the Atlantic, this musical will no doubt be many Brits introduction to her. Described by the Almeida as a “testament of faith, resilience and the temptations of success", this musical tells the story of gay icon and 'televangelist' Tammy Faye Messner. This is being brought to the stage with some very impressive credentials. With music by Elton John, lyrics by Jake Shears and a book by James Graham, this has been one of the most anticipated shows of 2022.
I was concerned this show may feel a little long, at just under three hours. However, by the end I was praying at the altar of Tammy Faye for more. With such an interesting life not everything could be covered in depth. Whilst her struggles to be taken seriously as a female in a male dominated world are shown, I would have loved to have seen more of this battle and a little more ‘grit’. However, I accept that this would have been at the expense of losing other aspects.
Although not just in story alone, the musical successfully pays homage to Tammy Faye as a gay icon. This is in fact done much better than in the 2021 film. Whilst only acknowledged by our protagonist at the end, it is touched on throughout. Perhaps the most tender moment is when she interviews an AIDs patient in a time of fear and ignorance. There are many jokes and witty lines throughout that appealed to the LGBTQ+ audience members who lapped it up with laughter, me included!
With venue limitations meaning a lack of wing space, the staging was well thought out. A sea of screens is the backdrop to the stage. These are cleverly used to show live projections of Tammy & Jim’s TV network ‘PTL’. Slightly washed out, this transport you to the 1980’s as if it were actual footage. They also open up to reveal different characters in several of the boxes throughout, as well as lighting up in vibrant rainbow colours.
The music is unmistakably ‘Elton’ in its chord progression/sound and it is everything you would hope it would be. Katie Brayben (Tammy Faye) is sensationally heart-breaking in her rendition of ‘Empty Hands’ at the end of Act 1. This is well worth the ticket price alone! If this isn’t enough to earn Brayben her much deserved Olivier Award nomination, then from the roar of the often-reserved Almeida crowd ‘If You Came to See Me Cry’ will cement the inevitable and well-deserved nod. Although late to the Brayben party, I will now ensure that I will never miss anything she does again, and I suggest you do the same!
The more heartfelt numbers are interspersed throughout with camp anthems that not only entertain the audience, but also move the story along. She is supported well by Broadway legend Andrew Rannells as husband Jim Baker, in his West End Debut. It was a treat to see him in such a small and intimate venue, and he excelled in the role, particularly during the later scenes. Although many in the audience would have undoubtably come specifically to see Rannells, he knew not to take the light from Brayben… not that ANYONE could if they even tried).
This show grips you from the start, with Act 2 potentially being even stronger than the first! Tammy Faye plays at the Almeida Theatre until Saturday 03/12/2022. However, with the entire run selling out pretty much immediately, tickets for this show like gold dust! I hear that many people have been successful getting returns tickets on the day, so if you are London, it might be worth your while to pop down to the Almeida to see this fabulous little show!
GOD BLESS TAMMY FAYE