Tammy Faye Messner is headed to Broadway.
The late evangelist, known as Tammy Faye Bakker when she hosted “The PTL Club” Christian program with her former husband Jim Bakker, is the subject of a new musical that’s slated to come to Broadway during the 2024-25 season.
And the show, simply titled “Tammy Faye,” has got some star power behind it: Pop icon Elton John composed the score, while Jake Shears, a member of the platinum-selling band Scissor Sisters, wrote the lyrics.
But arguably the real star is Tammy Faye Messner, known for her heavy eye makeup and rapid rise to fame, which was then followed by a precipitous fall. Messner and Bakker built a whole network out of their “PTL” (as in Praise the Lord) program and also created a Christian theme park called Heritage USA. The couple’s business earned them $120 million annually, but their world fell apart when Bakker got caught up in a sex scandal and then details about the pair’s lavish lifestyle made headlines.
Bakker eventually went to prison for fraud and conspiracy. Messner divorced him, remarried and became a gay icon, actress and author along the way. She died in 2007 from colon cancer.
“Tammy Faye” comes to Broadway after a run on London’s West End, where it received some positive reviews. The New York Times praised John’s score as “a savvy amalgam of country twang and rousing pop-rock ensemble numbers,” while the show-business trade publication Variety called the musical “riotously entertaining.”
Still, the production could face some headwinds. For starters, just because a show is about a well-known figure hardly means it’s a slam dunk. Consider “Diana,” the musical about Princess Diana, which lasted less than two months on Broadway.
Not to mention the fact that “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” the 2021 movie about Messner, was considered a dud at the box office, grossing only $2.6 million worldwide. (Though it did win its star, Jessica Chastain, an Oscar.)
Plus, Broadway itself has yet to fully recover from the pandemic. Shows grossed $1.58 billion during the 2022-23 season — about a 14% decline from the pre-pandemic 2018-19 peak of $1.83 billion.
“It’s going to bounce back, but it’s taking longer than anybody expected,” said Craig Laurie, chief creative officer for RWS Global, a New York-based theatrical and live-event company.
Still, Elton John has had a strong track record on Broadway. Specifically, his musical “The Lion King,” based on the Disney
film for which he contributed songs, has become a Broadway behemoth, grossing $1.9 billion since it opened in 1997. Just last week, it added nearly another $2 million in ticket sales.
Victoria Cairl, a New York-based theatrical producer, also says that “Tammy Faye” could have a broad appeal: Older audiences are likely familiar with John’s music and Messner’s story, while the younger crowd will know Jake Shears’ work. That could give “Tammy Faye” a much wider market than the norm for Broadway.
“There are very few shows that are cross-generational,” Cairl said.
Producers for “Tammy Faye” weren’t available to comment about the show’s Broadway arrival.