Seattle Public Theater’s “Vanishing Point” takes on the disappearances of Amelia Earhart, Agatha Christie and Aimee Semple McPherson — in musical form.
Apart from being legends in their own time (and ours), what did aviator Amelia Earhart, master of crime fiction Agatha Christie and flamboyant evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson share in common? All were accomplished, industrious and international celebrities. And all, while in their 30s, went missing.
Their much-publicized disappearances are, many decades later, still confounding — despite rampant investigation and speculation in news accounts, books, plays and films.
But “Vanishing Point” may well be the first time their fascinating disappearances have been bundled together in a musical.
By Rob Hartmann, Liv Cummins and Scott Keys. Jan. 25-Feb. 25 at Seattle Public Theater, 7312 W. Green Lake Dr. N., Seattle; $17-$34 (206-524-1300 or seattlepublictheater.org)
Created by Liv Cummins and Robb Hartman (based on a concept, and with additional lyrics by, Scott Keys), the chamber piece comes to Seattle Public Theater (SPT) in a newly revised version that opens Jan. 25.
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But don’t expect answers for why and where its main characters went poof. “We explore the possibilities of what happened to them,” notes director Annie Lareau, co-artistic leader of SPT. “There’s no message delivered to your doorstep at the end, but we get a sense of how they each underwent a powerful transformation.”
She continued, “All three disappeared at prime moments in their lives, at crisis points. In the musical they exist in a fictional space called the vanishing point where they come together to understand and help each other.”
McPherson, Earhart and Christie are played, respectively, by Heather Hawkins, Cristin J. Hubbard and Rebecca M. Davis, who also tackle other characters (including various lovers and husbands).
Earhart had the most transparent motive for heading off into the wild blue yonder. The first woman to fly solo across the Transatlantic (in 1932), she also aimed to be the first person to fly around the globe at the equator.
On her second attempt at the feat, in 1937, she and navigator Fred Noonan almost made it. But while trying to land on tiny Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean, Earhart’s last words by radio were that visibility was poor, and fuel was running low.
It is widely assumed the two crashed and perished. Yet Earhart’s remains, and wreckage of Earhart’s twin-engine Lockheed Electra, have not been found. One of many theories about her gained traction in 2017: She and Noonan landed in the Marshall Islands, where they were imprisoned and later killed by the Japanese. No definitive evidence supports that scenario. And so in the public imagination, Earhart remains intrepid and dauntless, as eternally youthful as a female Peter Pan.
Muses Lareau, “She was so afraid of getting old and dying that it’s interesting what elevated her to an iconic level was her disappearance. We’ll always see her as this incredible person at the peak of her life, and the musical explores what might have happened had she lived longer.”
McPherson’s saga? The charismatic Pentecostal faith healer became an evangelical superstar in the 1920s. She established her own megachurch in Los Angeles, and was innovative in using radio to preach to the masses.
Away from the pulpit the glamorous McPherson hobnobbed with film stars, and married three times. Her fame reached a crescendo in 1926 after she seemed to vanish on an L.A. beach. Tabloids reported on alleged ransom notes and kidnapping plots, and had a field day when McPherson emerged five weeks later in Mexico, insisting she’d been abducted. Or, as some claimed, did she really duck out for a secret adulterous tryst?
Con artist, or victim? Kathy Lee Gifford’s 2011 musical “Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson,” which had a pre-Broadway tryout at 5th Avenue Theatre, didn’t solve that riddle.
Neither does “Vanishing Point.” Says Lareau, “You can look at it in various ways, depending on where you’re coming from. … What I love about the show is that it’s a prism that leaves you with questions to answer about yourself, and what it means to follow a passion.”
Perplexing disappearances are a frequent plot device of Agatha Christie, in her roughly 75 crime novels. Her whodunits are still popular today, in print and on film (a recent adaptation of “Murder on the Orient Express,” and an upcoming miniseries based on “Ordeal of Innocence”).
But in 1926 the genteel, publicity-shy Christie became part of a real-life caper. After her philandering husband demanded a divorce, her abandoned car was found near a quarry in rural England. Had Christie killed herself? Been kidnapped? Murdered? For 11 days, police and over 1,000 volunteers searched for her.
She was finally spotted at a distant hotel, registered under an assumed name. Yet was she there due to amnesia, as she claimed? Or to win back her spouse?
Or, as Lareau theorizes, did the social pressures on high-achieving women factor into the disappearing acts of these “mythic” achievers? That’s still a mystery, and in “Vanishing Point,” something to sing about.