The Cher Show Serves Up Three Tall Divas for the Price of One
She's the biggest star in showbiz, and now she's the subject of a Broadway musical.
Whenever you see Madonna reinvent herself, or Lady Gaga grab headlines with an audacious outfit, you should think of Cher: The Goddess of Pop was perfecting that act decades before either of them. Now, Broadway audiences can revisit her half-century career in The Cher Show, the new jukebox musical at the Neil Simon Theatre. With a book by Rick Elice (Jersey Boys) and direction by Jason Moore (Avenue Q), it doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it does avoid some of the nastier potholes of the bio-musical form while driving home a sequin-studded spectacle.
Jukebox musical connoisseurs will notice certain similarities between The Cher Show and the soon-to-close Summer: The Donna Summer Musical: specifically, the choice to split the protagonist into three roles corresponding to three different ages. In The Cher Show, the holy trinity of pop is Babe (Micaela Diamond), Lady (Teal Wicks), and Star (Stephanie J. Block). We watch Babe meet Sonny Bono (a vocally uncanny Jerrod Spector) and his employer, Phil Spector (Michael Fatica). We see Lady transform their act from hippies-in-love to husband-and-wife comedy duo. Then we witness Star conquer stage and screen to become one of the biggest celebrities of our time. Cher's greatest hits, like ''Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves," "Song for the Lonely," and "Believe," accent the action, resulting in a fairly standard bio-musical that still manages to swing a few surprises.
As with every other bio-musical of the last decade, The Cher Show engages in some revisionist history: An early scene tries to convince us that the song "Half-Breed" is about Cher's half-Armenian heritage, rather than an attempt to capitalize on her dark looks by pushing a mythologized Native American ancestry. There's also Cher's use of the name "Chaz" in scenes set in the 1970s. While Cher does have a transgender son named Chaz, he wouldn't have been referred to as such by either parent at that time.
But the unique form of The Cher Show makes this Orwellian correction understandable: Elice and Moore make it clear that we're seeing the show happening inside of Cher's mind. That magical realm offers the three Chers a chance to powwow: "Omigod, you are such a bad-ass," one Cher says to another. When not featured in the main scene, the other two perform backup, supporting Cher through a whirlwind of book scenes and live music videos.
Moore stages it all with a dreamlike fluidity, supported by Christine Jones and Brett J. Banakis's nimble, ever-transforming set, which looks like the showroom in Valhalla under Kevin Adams's concert lighting. Christopher Gattelli takes full advantage of the freewheeling rules of The Cher Show in his choreography: A duet of "Dark Lady" between Sonny and second husband Gregg Allman (a charmingly loopy Matthew Hydzik), becomes a tango between six men and The Dark Lady (the agile and sexy Ashley Blair Fitzgerald). In unapologetic musical theater fashion, beautiful dancers pop out of nowhere, scantily clad in glitter and spandex.
No element supports the surreal world of The Cher Show better than Bob Mackie's costumes: Longtime stylist to Cher, Mackie not only re-creates some of her most iconic looks, but designs a slew of new ones. He smartly connects the three Chers with color and silhouette, adding slight variations to every piece. Outfits seem to change every few minutes, adding to the trippy quality of the show. Mackie appears in the script as a supporting character (drolly played by Michael Berresse) in what may be a first for a Broadway costume designer — and it's well-earned: "Have you met our writers?" quips Lady. "This dress is the best material in the show." Too true.
Elice is great for a one-liner, but his book never achieves a dramatic boil. How could it when its protagonist is essentially flawless, triumphing over every adversity with ferocious grace? She tells us she's shy, but Babe is already outsinging everyone within minutes of getting behind the mic at Spector's recording studio. When Sonny tells her that she'll be "nobody" without him, we don't buy it and neither does Lady (their company is called "Cher Enterprises," after all). When Star auditions for a Broadway play directed by Robert Altman (also Berresse), an emotional breakdown is quickly revealed to be a clever way to show off her acting chops. She never feels truly vulnerable, so the stakes flatline throughout.
Great actors know how to disguise an inert script. While the part is split into three, it's not all Cher and share alike: Befitting her stellar character name, Block dominates the show with a convincing vocal performance and authentic diction. Where Diamond and Wicks are giving fine tribute concert impersonations, Block makes the role her own and delivers the closest thing this show has to real emotional connection. In the latter scenes, she reveals a woman who still has much to say, and refuses to be silenced by a culture that values youth above all.
Plenty of viewers will relate. Even though Elice and Moore only superficially dramatize milestones in Cher's life — the birth of a child, the breakup of a marriage, the discovery of illness, the funeral of an ex-husband — their mere mention in proximity to Cher's indelible music will likely be enough to get audience members thinking about these events in their own lives. Not bad for a splashy nostalgia trip.