Gifford is also a musical theater songwriter, and her musical, Saving Aimee, starring Carolee Carmello as evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, will play the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle from September 30 through October 29. TheaterMania recently spoke with Gifford about the musical, Regis Philbin's upcoming retirement, and her children.
THEATERMANIA: What appealed to you about the life of Aimee Semple McPherson?
Kathie Lee Gifford: She is a crazy, wild, fabulous, and spiritual woman. She built a temple in Los Angeles, The Foursquare Church, and it's still there. Aimee baptized Marilyn Monroe. She was friends with Charlie Chaplin -- he even designed sets for her services. She gave John Wayne one of his first acting jobs. Aimee became the first tabloid queen. And despite this, she has fallen through the cracks and that makes me crazy. She blazed a trail. If you put Oprah, Lady Gaga, and Michelle Obama together, you would not have what Aimee was.
TM: Aimee has been compared to Oprah Winfrey. Do you see any similarities between them?
KLG: Oprah has a heart for people who are hurting. But nobody had more of a heart than Aimee. She would go to the bars and love on the alcoholics, telling them to come to her meeting. Aimee would tell people to come into the church and then clean up. Most churches say clean up and then come.
TM: You have been writing and developing this production for quite some time. What has that process been like?
KLG: The biggest difficulty has been how to make it commercial and entertaining. It has been 12 years since I wrote the first song for the musical and it's been 10 years since I started writing the book. I am used to live television where things happen, and then it's over, so the discipline of working on something for so long has been amazing. I'm not the patient type, if you can't tell.
TM: This isn't the first time you have worked with composers David Friedman and David Pomeranz. Can you talk about your relationship with them?
KLG: David Friedman is the reason I became a writer. He works with me regularly writing songs for the Today Show for our monthly segment called "Everyone Has a Story." When I was approached by NBC, I said the only way I would come back to television is if you let me bring my theater passion with me, so we finally came up with that piece. David Pomeranz wrote Under the Bridge with me Off-Broadway. Right now, we work together so seamlessly you can't tell who wrote what.
TM: What are your ultimate goals for this production?
KLG: I hope the show makes it to Broadway. The production has to make it to Broadway before we can get a worldwide audience. I hope atheists love this show. This is about a story, not about religion. We are not preaching. You don't work on something for this long to have it end here in Seattle; but if it does, it has been a thrill.
TM: What are your thoughts on Regis Philbin retiring from Live? KLG: I'm happy for him. He has been doing the show for 28 years. I know how happy I was when I left after 15 years. Frank and I have dinner with him and Joy every six weeks or so. In fact, I just gave him a birthday dinner. I never ended my friendship with him. He shot a pilot for a new reality show recently, and it might be hysterical. He is an extraordinary talent.
TM: Is there any truth to the rumors that ABC is trying to get you to replace Regis?
KLG: I don't plant those stories in the press like other people do. I was honored someone said that, but there is no truth. My advice to the producers is to break the mold and do something new.
TM: What else do you have lined up professionally?
KLG: I will be shooting an episode of Hot in Cleveland, which I think is one of the funniest shows on television. I get to act; I'm not playing myself. I will have another book out at Christmas, called The Three Gifts, with proceeds benefitting ChildHelp, an organization battling child abuse.
TM: What are your children, Cassidy and Cody, doing these days?
KLG: Cassidy landed a small role on Blue Bloods and is modeling in fashion week for Sherri Hill, who is a wonderful designer for girl's prom dresses. Cody wants to write and direct. He is a terrific writer and has a great sense of humor. He loves Woody Allen. I'm very blessed with my children. I actually like them! I always knew I would love them, but it's different to actually like them.