The Cher Show, the new Broadway jukebox musical that offers a whirlwind tour of the music, life and six-decade career of the entertainer and self-proclaimed “goddamn Goddess Warrior,” is banking on the popularity of the star, using three different actresses to portray her. One could argue that Cher’s fans expect no less – and no more – than what The Cher Show gives them: glitz, hits and highlights. But Cher’s very popularity – along with her longevity, range, and contradictions – might have made for a portrait not just fabulous but also fascinating…and maybe even (dare I say it) nuanced. (Test your knowledge in “Cher and Broadway: A quiz.”)
Instead, the show is putting its faith in the power of sequins.
Bob Mackie has been hired as the costume designer — his ninth turn on Broadway, and just the latest of the thousands of gigs he’s had costuming Cher since they met 51 years ago. Mackie puts on something of a fashion show in The Cher Show featuring recreations of Cher’s most memorably outrageous outfits, all feathered headdresses and bared midriffs. There is an extended sequence when one of the Chers, referred to in the program as Babe (Micaela Diamond) sings “The Beat Goes On” while the other two, Lady (Teal Wicks) and Star (Stephanie J. Block) take turns modeling the dresses in which Cher appeared on Oscar nights over the years
The team that put The Cher Show together (which includes Cher, credited as one of the three producers) offers a sly (or unconscious) defense of this fashion-forward approach in a scene almost halfway through the 150 minutes of the musical.
Cher gets into a fight with the censor of her hit variety TV show from the 1970s, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. The censor objects to all the skin showing in the costumes created by the TV show’s designer — Bob Mackie (portrayed by Michael Berresse.) “Have you met our writers?” Cher retorts. “This dress is the best material in the show.”
Some are saying much the same thing about the musical at the Neil Simon Theater.
The clothes are admittedly hard to resist, but they’re not all that is winning about The Cher Show. Christopher Gattelli’s choreography captures the spirit of a Cher concert, with its hunk and babe gyrations, especially in the number “Dark Lady,” which features Ashley Blair Fitzgerald as the dark lady (a fourth Cher in a way.) There are some terrific performances, primarily Stephanie J. Block, who goes beyond just a spot-on impersonation of the mature Cher (Star), and Jarrod Spector as the mousy and ingratiating Sonny Bono. Spector has carved out something of a specialty in Broadway jukebox musicals, portraying both Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys and Barry Mann in Beautiful The Carole King Musical.
It’s worth noting some of the elements of those two shows that account for their success, which don’t exist in The Cher Show. Jersey Boys tells the story of the musical group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons without holding back. The book for The Cher Show holds back, although written by Rick Elice, who co-wrote the book for Jersey Boys.
We get an overview — shy child, hookup with 28-year-old Sonny Bono at age 16, rise and fall as pop singing duo, rise and fall as TV stars, breakup with Sonny, marriage and breakup with rock star Gregg Allman, romance and breakup with “bagel boy” Rob Camilletti, rise and fall of movie career, dip into infomercials, touring concerts. It travels fast through this main if hilly road, avoiding the detours that would have made the trip more worthwhile. Some of this is understandable, given Cher’s involvement in the production. There is no mention of her daughter Chastity becoming her son Chaz, for example. Instead, Cher refers to her child as Chaz even as an infant, and there is a careful avoidance in the script of any pronouns (neither “he” nor “she.”) Sonny’s post-Cher career as a Republican congressman is reduced to a throwaway line. While much is made of Cher’s growing feminist consciousness and her mastery of clever putdowns, there is very little evidence of the blunt and political Cher familiar to her 3.5 million followers on Twitter, where she writes things like “Donald Trump’s ego is so inflated, he might as well be the Hindenburg”
Well, it’s a jukebox musical, you say. And that’s the second crucial difference.
Both Jersey Boys and Beautiful are about songwriters, not just singers, and both shows serve as efficient delivery systems for their preternaturally catchy songs. Only a handful of the more than 30 songs in The Cher Show count as memorable; frankly, most of her hits post Sonny and Cher sound the same to me. It’s her delivery of them that makes them appealing.
The Cher Show offers some of the same pleasures as her old television shows, slightly enlarged, or of her concert tours, condensed. For her most devoted fans, that might be enough.
The Cher Show is on stage at the Neil Simon Theatre (250 W 52nd Street, between 8th and Broadway, New York, NY 10019)
The Cher Show . Book by Rick Elice. Musical supervision by Daryl Waters. Choreography by Christopher Gattelli; Costume design by Bob Mackie; Directed by Jason Moore. Scenic Design by Christine Jones and Brett J. Banakis. Lighting Design by Kevin Adams; Sound Design by Nevin Steinberg; Video Design by Darrel Maloney; Projection Design by Darrel Maloney; Hair and Wig Design by Charles G. LaPointe. Makeup Design by Cookie Jordan
Featuring Stephanie J. Block, Teal Weaks, Micaela Diamond, Jarrod Spector, Michael Berresse, Emily Skinner, Michael Campayno, Matthew Hydzik, Dee Roscioli, Marija Abney, Carleigh Bettiol, Taurean Everett, Michael Fatica, Ashley Blair Fitzgerald, Michael Graceffa, Blaine Alden Krauss, Sam Lips, Tiana Okoye, Amy Quanbeck, Angel Reda, Jennifer Rias, Michael Tacconi, Tory Trowbridge, Christopher Vo, Alena Watters, Charlie Williams and Ryan Worsing