The Cher Show review – Broadway musical is a mixed bag of pop excess

Neil Simon Theatre, New York

A jukebox ode to the megastar contains some dazzling numbers but suffers from some clumsy storytelling

At The Cher Show, there are three Chers onstage and lots more in the audience. Before a preview performance, a party bus had disgorged several women in black wigs and sparkly outfits. Others had bellied up to the bar inside. Even an usher was a lookalike. If no side boobs or pubic bones were displayed by the Chers in the audience, well, it was cold outside.

Cher’s fandom is assured. The exuberant, occasionally tacky jukebox musical that tells her life story is more faltering. The Cher Show, like last year’s Donna Summer musical, requires three actors (and the occasional dancer) to play one jukebox queen. Micaela Diamond is Babe, Teal Wicks is Lady, Stephanie J Block is Star. (That trio sounds cheerier than Maiden, Mother, Crone.) Together they describe the evolution of Cherilyn Sarkisian from southern California ugly duckling to the black swan entertainment queen. This is a straightforward story of female empowerment, though, as crafted by an all-male creative team, it sometimes feels more like a compilation of girl-power pep talks than an individual woman’s singular journey.

Do you believe in life after love is a fine question, but do you believe in jukebox musicals is probably a better one. The producers Flody Suarez and Jeffrey Seller obviously do, but belief is not enough. Mashing song and story together is the great problem of the genre. The Cher Show doesn’t solve it. Rick Elice’s book relies heavily on exposition, with Block often stepping out to narrate key moments or to summon her other selves for a consultation. “‘Cause when I fall on this bad-ass, I’m going to need a sweetheart to feel better and a smart-mouth to pick me up,” she explains.

The rest of the book is mostly bad jokes. (Fame, Lady says, was “indescribable”. “Really?” Babe asks. “What was it like?” Wait for it: “It was indescribable.”) Though as Cher was half of the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, maybe this is fair.

Teal Wicks, Stephanie J. Block and Micaela Diamond in The Cher Show
Teal Wicks, Stephanie J Block and Micaela Diamond in The Cher Show. Photograph: Joan Marcus

Only rarely do the songs tell the story. Mostly they’re slotted in as emotional punctuation (Half Breed, Bang Bang), but frequently they pop as little more than fan service. The Beat Goes On is successfully repurposed to detail Cher’s time on Broadway and in Hollywood, but otherwise the best numbers are the ones that dispense with story entirely, like Ain’t Nobody’s Business, which begins as a song about network censorship and then segues into a hallucinatory Bob Mackie fashion show, a mic drop moment that throws a gala celebration for every secondary sexual characteristic known to woman and chorus boy. It’s so garish and delirious and literally show-stopping, that it highlights the lack of imagination elsewhere and the show’s need to gloss over – sequin over, brilliantine over – anything too uncomfortable or hard.

The secondary characters are largely afterthoughts, though musical theater fans will cheer Emily Skinner as Cher’s mother, Georgia Holt, and Michael Berresse is an infectious Mackie. Jarrod Spector wrings laughs impersonating the nasal croak of Sonny Bono, Cher’s first husband, though Matthew Hydzik is mostly lost behind the wig of Gregg Allman, her second. The set, by Christine Jones and Brett J Banakis, looks like it’s auditioning for its Vegas residency and barring the standout number Lady in the Dark, Christopher Gatelli’s choreography only rarely registers. Mackie’s costumes are an astonishment. Applause should also go to the frenzied dressers in the wings.

Though there are three Chers, it’s clear from the opening number that Block, with her tigress contralto and comic authority, is the goddess of this particular trinity. Diamond is sweet and Wicks is sharp and they’re fine singers both, but their roles are secondary – inevitable if you imagine the singer’s life as a teleological gallop toward self-actualization.

So this holiday season, Cher the love. Cher the joy. Cher the clumsy storytelling. A couple of Cher-tinis and you might believe, too.


Alexis Soloski

The GuardianTramp

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