Review: The Cher Show
A new musical about LGBT pop icon Cher hits Broadway.
There are many reasons why Cher is undeniably one of the great gay icons of pop music. She is a contralto, possessing one of the deepest and most distinctive female voices in music. She cuts a statuesque 5’9” and is invariably decked out in outfits that would be the envy of any drag queen—or Amazon. She’s a vocal supporter of LGBTQ causes and of her transgender son Chaz. She received an Oscar nomination for her role as a lesbian in the film Silkwood (opposite Meryl Streep, with whom she shared a Mama Mia! red carpet kiss this year). She even sat down with GLAAD this year to reveal that she first met gay people when she was 12 years old. “They were so happy and excited about everything they were talking about, so animated,” she said. “And I didn’t know that they were gay, but I just thought, ’These guys are great,’ and it all started from then.”
What ‘it’ is could be described as her unique balance of authenticity and artifice, of insecurity and outrageousness. Her determination to express herself and yet to keep refining that expression is something that many queer people identify with. The struggle to achieve independence as a woman and to find happiness while suffering the slings and arrows of rocky romances is a quality we admire in other gay icons such as Maria Callas, Judy Garland, Madonna and Lady Gaga.
So it seems natural that Cher’s life would make a good Broadway musical—a genre also beloved by LGBT folks.
The Cher Show is a new biographical musical featuring a book by Tony Award winner Rick Elice and directed by Tony Award nominee Jason Moore, and for all the qualities described above is set to be the latest ‘sure thing’ on Broadway, in a similar vein to Kinky Boots.
It’s got 35 songs, a ton of glitter, countless costume changes, a bevvy of backup dancers, and enough wattage to power another Moon landing. It takes a lot of chutzpah to pull off a characterization of Cher and three actresses—Tony Award nominee Stephanie J. Block, Teal Wicks, and Micaela Diamond—have been selected for this task, embodying three aspects of the iconic singer and actress at various times in her career: Babe, Lady, and Star.
Stephanie J. Block as Star/Cher
They are joined by Tony Award nominee Jarrod Spector as Sonny Bono, Tony Award nominee Michael Berresse as Bob Mackie, Michael Campayno as Rob Camilletti, Matthew Hydzik as Gregg Allman, and Tony Award nominee Emily Skinner who is a standout as Cher’s wise mom, Georgia Holt.
In a story that truly has a lot of territory to cover — it dances through about 50 years or so — we hear that Cher is dyslexic more than once, and her chief complaint in life is that she doesn’t get enough time to spend with her kid, Chastity. But any discussion of the adult Chastity, who at one point identified as a lesbian, and then transitioned to Chaz Bono, a transgender man — is oddly omitted from the narrative. That was my chief complaint, but there is a lot to love about The Cher Show, which will have your head bopping and leave you with a smile on your face.
But while we have a tripartite Cher, she still comes off as a sequined Sphinx most knowable as a character in the early scenes when she is shy Cherilyn Sarkisian. She’s far less knowable once she becomes a star. Sonny, on the other hand, comes off as a fully-developed character. Ambitious, unscrupulous, and controlling, he may be the butt of too many short jokes and some unflattering wardrobe but he’s the most interesting character in this script.
That being said, the real star of the show is the costumes by Cher’s real-life friend and couturier Bob Mackie, each one marking another step in Cher’s evolution as an icon.
There aren’t a lot of surprises in this show other than the critical plot point when Cher discovers that 11 years of busting her ass working for Sonny has amounted to nothing more than earning her keep. She owned zero per cent of the company named after her. And the three-year relationship with Rob “Bagel Boy” Camilletti gets a section of its own, but no Chaz.
Emily Skinner as Cher’s mom (and a cameo as Lucille Ball) carries the show’s theme with her oft-repeated motto: “The song will make you strong.” And perhaps it will. Those 35 songs are ones that we all know and love and they act as markers in our own lives. I was amazed by the extent to which Cher has been an arbiter of changes in popular culture itself. Remember when she did the video to “If I Could Turn Back Time” in 1989 and folks were in an uproar that a woman over 40 would dare to parade near-naked in front of a bunch of sailors? I mean, how dare she? She's Cher, that's how!
Other things to love: a diverse and delicious dance ensemble and scenic design that mightn’t always be tasteful but if you missed Vegas this year, The Cher Show will take you there.
This production features alumni from other Broadway hits such as Newsies, Memphis, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, American Idiot, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen. This one looks like a hit, too. Grab your girls and get ready to dance in your seats.
The Cher Show is now playing at the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd Street.