All the Glitz and Hits Are on Display in The Cher Show
The musical based on the superstar's life premieres in Chicago.
In The Cher Show, now enjoying its pre-Broadway run at Chicago's Oriental Theatre, three women share the role of Cher: Micaela Diamond plays "Babe" Cher in her childhood and early years of pop success; Teal Wicks plays "Lady" Cher at the height of her variety-show fame; and Stephanie J. Block takes center stage as "Star" Cher, a movie star and cultural icon. Rather than switching off chronologically, the three travel together in a girl group, interrupting and advising one another like perpetual angels and devils on their own shoulders. The result is sometimes clever, but not very fun.
Cher's life is, on paper, pretty exciting: At age 72, she remains the only musician to have at least one No. 1 hit on the Billboard charts every decade from the 1960s to the 2010s. Along with her inimitable musical success, she has also headlined multiple TV shows, won an Academy Award, and pushed boundaries as a fashion icon, all while having high-profile relationships with men like Sonny Bono, Gregg Allman, and Gene Simmons. She has been so successful and prolific that it's hard to recount it all — and maybe that's the problem.
Despite the efforts of book writer Rick Elice, the emotional details of Cher's life never have a chance to land as the musical zips from event to event. Hit songs are cut down for time, and key moments are brushed aside. Cher's tempestuous marriage to Gregg Allman (Matthew Hydzik) comes and goes in one medley that commands just about as much stage time — and as much audience enthusiasm — as the iconic torso-baring Bob Mackie outfit she wore to the 1986 Oscars.
The Cher Show is, at its best, a dynamic showcase for faithful re-creations of those tremendous fashion designs. Mackie is credited as the sole costume designer for the show, and he's a character as well, played with high energy and camp by Michael Berresse. Mackie is just one of the many men in the musical who guide Cher on her journey. For a musical set on uplifting Cher as a feminist hero, The Cher Show focuses a lot on the men in her life, particularly Sonny Bono (Jarrod Spector). Spector is a fantastic Bono, if a little too handsome, but too much Sonny is a distraction. Puzzlingly, the last moment we see in Cher's life, chronologically speaking, is her eulogy for Bono in 1998.
When the musical does finally focus on the women playing Cher, the leading ladies shine. Block's powerful pipes bring down the house again and again. Wick successfully captures Cher's mannerisms and voice while portraying a woman finding her own personal power. And as the youngest Cher, Diamond is a breakaway hit. She adds innocent charm and sly humor into a role which should, with any luck, launch an exciting career of her own.
Emily Skinner manages to make the most of a few minutes of stage time as Cher's mother, Georgia Holt, and the talented ensemble executes Christopher Gattelli's choreography with enthusiasm. The Cher Show's greatest asset, though, is its adoring, and indulgent, audience. Waves of applause rose up when Cher made her first hair flip, and when the opening notes of "Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves" played, the house went wild. Perhaps dramatic merit is unnecessary when a show resonates with the people it was written for — and this show certainly does.