The first act is too slavish to facts, packing in more biographical information than necessary, but both Ed Watts as first husband, evangelist Robert Semple, and Brandon O’Neill as second husband, Harold McPherson, ensure it remains engaging. Things perk up in the second act as Aimee’s media empire grows enormous, and Watts and O’Neill return as two other men in her life — actor David Hutton and radio engineer Kenneth Ormiston, the other half of a fake kidnapping scandal that threatened to down Aimee’s reputation.
The trial surrounding the salacious circumstances is weaved throughout the show, but reaches a fever pitch in the second act, which often plays like a poor man’s Chicago — all the themes of celebrity obsession, judicial corruption and media frenzy without any of Kander and Ebb’s trenchant wit.
But Saving Aimee plays well despite it. Carmello brought down the house with nearly every number, and the looser nature of the second act even allowed some humor to shine through, often thanks to Roz Ryan. Playing brothel madam turned attendant to Aimee, Ryan was stuck with sassy black woman boilerplate, but she breathed sardonic life into it.
Saving Aimee is hindered by its worshipful portrayal of its titular character, who is deeply flawed but ultimately lionized, and an overstuffed book that displays an impressive grasp of the facts, but never approaches a critical perspective on Aimee. But with Carmello’s stunning performance chops and an imposing, elevated pulpit set by Walt Spangler commanding attention, one felt quite predisposed to forgive Aimee its sins.
Saving Aimee is on stage at the 5th Avenue Theatre through Oct. 29. Tickets are available at the 5th’s website.