The Cher Show
Book by Rick Elice; directed by Jason Moore
Opened December 3, 2018
|The Cher Show (photo: Joan Marcus)|
There are two paths for a jukebox musical. The first is to attach a threadbare plot to an artist’s songs, like Mamma Mia (Abba), We Will Rock You (Queen), Escape to Margaritaville (Jimmy Buffett) or Head Over Heels (Go-Gos); the second is to make a sort of autobiography, like Beautiful (Carole King) or On Your Feet (Gloria Estefan). The Cher Show takes the second tack, with a trio of Chers (a conceit also used by Summer, another autobiographical musical) interacting, either amusingly or enervatingly, as the superstar’s bio is dramatized from her California childhood to her hitting it big with Sonny and the ‘70s and ‘70s to her musical comeback in the late 80s and 90s.
Cher’s up-and-down career—which comprised hit songs and TV shows, flop recordings and bad movies and, finally, an Oscar (for Moonstruck)—has enough soap opera, melodrama, tragedy and triumph in it to overcome the story’s familiar showbiz clichés as awkward, shy Cherilyn Sarkisian becomes a global megastar (and “goddess warrior,” her own description), overcoming problematic relationships with Svengali/first husband, Sonny Bono, and second husband/drug addict Gregg Allman. Rick Elice’s book tiptoes around personal missteps by allowing Cher a bit of self-awareness as her alter egos—young Babe, mid-career Lady and icon Star—discuss them as they happen.
The most obvious thing to note about The Cher Show is Bob Mackie’s splendid costumes. If anyone doesn’t remember them from Cher’s many TV appearances at awards shows and her own variety series with and without Sonny, they were truly spectacular: big and billowy or small and slinky, often with sequins, headdresses or other frills, Mackie’s costumes were as readily identifiable as the performer herself.
Costumes aside, The Cher Show is saved by its Star, the sensationally good Stephanie J. Block, who not only exactly copies Cher’s vocal mannerisms when speaking and singing but even looks like her, at least more than the other two—newcomer Micaela Diamond as Babe and Teal Wicks as Lady—who can both belt out the songs and act but can’t channel Cher as impressively.
Jarrod Spector (Sonny) and Matthew Hydzik (Gregg) are fine, while Michael Berresse exudes joy as Bob Mackie and tartness as director Robert Altman. Christopher Gattelli’s choreography smartly combines slavish reenactment and bright originality, while there’s a welcome tongue-in-cheek cleverness to Kevin Adams’ lighting, Christine Jones’ and Brett J. Banackis’ sets and Darrel Maloney’s projections. Director Jason Moore rounds up all this disparate visual and aural splendor into something approaching entertainment.
And the songs? Happily, there’s only a sprinkling of the awful, overdramatic sub-Meatloaf comeback tunes like the eardrum-hurting (and auto-tune starter) “Believe” and “If I Could Turn Back Time,” while there are lots of Sonny & Cher hits (“I Got You Babe” and “The Beat Goes On”) and early solo smashes (“Half Breed,” “Dark Lady”—weirdly resurrected as a sing-off between Sonny and Gregg—and “Gypsies Tramps and Thieves”).
Not surprisingly, like its leading lady The Cher Show careens all over the place, but its target audience won’t care in the slightest.
The Cher Show
Neil Simon Theater, 250 West 52nd Street, New York, NY