Televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker has a complicated legacy, muddied by the fraud conviction of her first husband. But the story of Bakker, who died of cancer in 2007 at age 65, continues to live on in a string of recent projects that shine a light on her life.
In 2000, her story was told in the RuPaul-narrated documentary “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” Last year, Jessica Chastain obtained the rights to the documentary for the major motion picture that snagged her her first Oscar. Now Bakker — with her signature flamboyant makeup — is coming to the stage, with an impressive list of creatives at the helm.
The forthcoming musical — titled simply “Tammy Faye” — is set to premiere this fall at the Almeida Theater in London. Elton John wrote the music, while Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears penned the lyrics.
“From a studio in South Carolina, Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker revolutionized religion,” the theater’s website reads. “Preaching to millions 24 hours a day, Tammy just wants to put the fun back into faith. 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.”
Olivier Award winner Katie Brayben — known best for her portrayal of Carole King in the London production of “Beautiful” — will play Bakker, with Tony Award nominee Andrew Rannells as her first husband, Jim Bakker.
“It was a bizarre, baroque, almost operatic life story,” Rupert Goold, the musical’s director, told The Guardian. “She’s at times kitsch, at times sentimental, but basically a very empathic figure.
“I think there’s quite a lot of faith music and church music influences in classic Elton John,” Goold added. “Tammy came to early fame in the ’70s, and then became a different kind of public figure in the ’80s and ’90s. And the score in some ways traces Elton’s own musicality through those periods as well.”
In tandem with the film’s release last year, Tammy Sue Bakker discussed her mother’s embattled legacy and who she was behind the scenes in an exclusive interview to TODAY.com.
Her humor “was a bit dark, and not everybody understood it, but we laughed all the time, and my mom would say we would laugh until we wet our pants,” Tammy Sue Bakker told TODAY.com. “And eating dessert first when we would go to dinner. Just the little simple things that wouldn’t mean much to other people."
Tammy Sue Bakker added that her mother "just knew how to live life to the fullest."
"She loved Diet Coke and Sweet 16 powdered doughnuts, fudge, candy and birthday cake. She said she loved when the icing would tickle her teeth. She just had this childlike quality about her but so much depth at the same time. She was very layered, very deep, but just so much fun."
“She had the fearlessness of a drag queen,” Chastain said. “There was something about her, people talk about drag like a mask or her makeup is a mask, and for me, I saw it as a way that she was expressing how she felt inside. It wasn’t a mask; she wasn’t hiding — it was truthful. She was being creative. She was being artistic. It was a beautiful thing about her.”