To many, she’s a myth, not a person, so we must ask the age-old question: How does one choose a favorite version of Cher? Luckily for her fans, with The Cher Show — the new bio-musical that’s now on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre — they don’t have to.
We have shy 16-year-old Cherilyn Sarkisian; grown-up “goddess warrior” Cher; Sonny’s Cher; maneater Cher; victim Cher; and when all else fails, we always have don’t-give-a-fuck Cher. And to accessorize all that, there’s a plethora of wigs, wings, sequins, sailors, glitter, feathers, gypsies, lace and g-strings. So let me stress that, despite its many failings, no one can say that The Cher Show doesn’t give us heaps of fantastic excess that attempts to match the diva that inspired it. “Let’s do this, bitches,” one Cher begins but, as another Cher wisely warns, “Don’t try this at home, queens.” The tao of Cher runneth over.
A trio of talented women are required to embody so many facets of the 72-year-old legend: Stephanie J. Block, who plays “Star” Cher, Teal Wicks as sassy “Lady” Cher and 19-year-old Micaela Diamond imbues “Babe” Cher with naive charm. From the moment Block begins to sing “If I Could Turn Back Time” at the top of the show, there’s a strange shiver of familiarity that takes over. We know that voice. Many of us have never lived in a world in which that voice didn’t exist. But now it’s time to do the impossible and shoehorn six decades of that voice — and a spectacularly peculiar rags-to-riches life — into two hours and 20 minutes with the help of corny jokes and a multitude of stunning Bob Mackie costumes. (The designer is even in the show, with actor Michael Berresse playing him, which seems right since there might be no Cher without Mackie outfitting her 5-foot-7 frame.)
An earlier version of the musical was said to have been structured like a live-taping of a variety show a la the ones she starred in during the Seventies with (and without) her husband Sonny Bono. I’m not sure how that ambitious idea would have fared either — although the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour section that remains in the first act achieves its biggest laughs and applause, especially when Jarrod Spector sings in Bono’s distinct nasally way. And yes Gregg Allman does appear in an odd saloon sketch and give some impressive hair flips and sings an unlikely “Dark Lady” duet with Sonny (although, for the record, he never sang “Ramblin’ Man,” that was Dickey Betts’ hit).
After having seen so many jukebox musicals over the years, I’ve inoculated myself to the knee-jerk criticisms that came easily with so many poor attempts to translate an iconic artist’s songbook and circuitous career to the stage. Up until this point, however, I’ve never witnessed such impressive impersonations — which is meant as a compliment. Because if the very talented women cast as Cher didn’t give us that, then there would be moms and millennials and a mob of gay men with pitchforks outside the theater calling for producers’ heads.
But I’m still left wondering what The Cher Show is exactly. At times it feels like glitzy Las Vegas revue that, if you were to squint, could easily be the best drag show of all time — although it lacks any actual drag queens. And then, in the second act, it eventually veers into something resembling a clip reel as Cher’s Oscar looks are quickly ticked off and other poor decisions (yes, even the informercials) are exposed until it explodes into a joyous cacophony of sentimental, shameless nothingness. Maybe the production is just a vehicle intended to fulfill a desire to tour forever and to assure us Cher shall never disappear from our lives. Ultimately, I don’t hate The Cher Show since, despite all of the mess, it leaves you wanting to Believe!