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Broadway Reviews

The Cher Show

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - December 3, 2018

The Cher Show Book by Rick Elice. Directed by Jason Moore. Choreography by Christopher Gattelli. Set design by Christine Jones and Brett J. Banakis. Costume design by Bob Mackie. Lighting design by Kevin Adams. Sound design by Nevin Steinberg. Video and Projection design by Darrel Maloney. Hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe. Music supervision, orchestrations, and arrangements by Daryl Waters. Music coordinator Dean Sharenow. Music director Andrew Resnick. Technical supervision by Hudson Theatrical Associates. Dance music arrangements by Zane Mark and Daryl Waters. Cast: Stephanie J. Block, Teal Wicks, Micaela Diamond, Michael Berresse, Michael Campayno, Matthew Hydzik, Emily Skinner, Jerrod Spector, Marija Juliette Abney, Carleigh Bettiol, Taurean Everett, Michael Fatica, Ashley Blair Fitzgerald, Michael Graceffa, Blaine Alden Krauss, Sam Lips, Tiana Okoye, Amy Quanbeck, Angel Reda, Jennifer Rias, Michael Tacconi, Tory Trowbridge, Christopher Vo, Aléna Watters, Charlie Williams, Ryan Worsing, and Dee Roscioli.
Theatre: Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue
Tickets: Ticketmaster

Teal Wicks, Stephanie J. Block, and Micaela Diamond
Photo by Joan Marcus

Please excuse the feeling of foreboding that flooded my bloodstream as I waited to enter the Neil Simon Theatre, where The Cher Show opened tonight. The seemingly endless parade of poorly devised jukebox bio-musicals that have attempted to establish themselves on Broadway lately has inculcated me with a heavy dose of skepticism. So I am doubly happy to be able to report that the enormous talent onstage and behind the scenes, and the sheer audience-loving energy and confidence that suffuse this production, make for a grand evening of entertainment as we follow the career and life story of one Cherilyn Sarkisian, better known to the world as Cher. Let's do this, bitches!

As jukebox musicals go, The Cher Show falls closer in style to the engaging and well-crafted Beautiful or the rousing dance-happy On Your Feet than it does to the lazily slapdash Escape to Margaritaville or the seemingly Wikipedia-scripted Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. And while it is true that die-hard Cher fans will undoubtedly be the first to line up for tickets, there is plenty here for anyone with even a minimal awareness of the more than 50-year career of the woman who has garnered a shelfful of awards for singing and for acting. Among these was a best actress Oscar for Moonstruck in 1988, which she followed up not long after with a gig hawking hair care products on TV. Whatever keeps you in the public eye. Or, as she says to someone who suggests it's time for her to fade away gracefully, "tell that to Mick Jagger."

As it turns out, the person who argues with her about resting on her laurels is none other than herself. Literally. For, as in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical in which three performers appear in the role of the lead character, here there are three Chers onstage, often at the same time, each one representing a different phase of her life. There is Babe, the teenaged Cher played by 19-year-old Micaela Diamond, making a fabulous Broadway debut; Lady, the mid-career Cher, played by Teal Wicks (Finding Neverland; Wicked) and Star, the forever young ""Goddess Warrior" Cher, played by Stephanie J. Block (Falsettos; The Mystery of Edwin Drood).

The very idea of this tripartite characterization is the thing I had dreaded the most. It made for a very confusing way to present the life story of Donna Summer, and I could not imagine how it might work here. Again, however, I could not have been more wrong. To begin with, all three performers are outstanding, and, more importantly, all credibly represent the same person. The mannerisms, the look, the voice modulations are all there. Even more significantly, the clearly established "lead Cher," Ms. Block, completely embraces the schizophrenia of it all. "I'm calling a meeting," she might say at any given time, and the other two join her for a tête-à-tête-à-tête. "It's much easier to talk to myself when I'm all here" is how she explains it to us.

Jarrod Spector and Micaela Diamond
Photo by Joan Marcus

Every bio-musical must have a bio, of course. This one was shaped by writer Rick Elice, who also did the honors for the highly successful Jersey Boys and Peter and the Starcatcher. Undoubtedly, Cher herself had a great deal of say as to how she would be presented, but the script certainly covers much of what we might expect. There are the ups and downs of her career; her life and work with her original partner and first husband Sonny Bono, well performed by Jarrod Spector, who is an alum of both Jersey Boys and Beautiful; her second marriage, to rocker Gregg Allman (Matthew Hydzik, a fine singer in his own right, as he demonstrates with his rendition of the Allman Brothers hit "Ramblin' Man"); and her muse, her mother, the singer-songwriter and actress Georgia Holt, played by the always-excellent Emily Skinner.

There are also guest appearances of other VIPs who helped to shape Cher's career. I'll leave some of these for you to discover, but it would not be possible to omit the man who was responsible for Cher's often stunning wardrobe, designer Bob Mackie (Michael Berresse, who plays two other roles as well). No one designs like Mackie, and no one could possibly recreate Mackie's glorious costumes like Mackie. So it stands to reason that the costume designer for The Cher Show is Mackie himself. At one point, the show stops completely for a parade of his outré fashions, and it's well worth the time it takes as members of the ensemble fill the stage with a breathtaking array of outfits that suggest an artfully modernist update of a Ziegfeld Follies display.

But enough of the supporting cast. Let's get back to Babe and Lady and Star. I can't imagine how much work it took for all three performers to become so in sync and so believably Cher-like at different stages of her life. (Now might be a good time to salute the hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe, who was very busy indeed keeping up with the changes in style through the years.). But beyond the look and the ‘tude and the self-deprecating humor that are hallmarks of Cher's public image, the three stars sing like there's no tomorrow, with a selection of numbers running the gamut from the blues standard "Ain't Nobody's Business," to Sonny and Cher's famous duet "I Got You, Babe," to her huge comeback hit from the late 1990s, "Believe," with its dance club beat and Auto-Tune sound. It all kind of shines a light on Sonny's cutting and, as it turns out, self-deluding remark as he explains before their breakup why it is he who is officially the owner of Cher Enterprises: "What're you going to do? It's a man's world." Not in The Cher Show, it isn't!

All right. It's not perfect. The show at times is overstuffed and overindulgent, while at other times it rushes through segments that deserve a bit more than is offered. But what impresses me most is the amount of care that has gone into every aspect, including the casting of every single role, the Vegas-and-Hollywood look of Christine Jones and Brett J. Banakis's set design and Kevin Adams lighting, and Christopher Gattelli's choreography (lots of club moves, but there's also a terrific performance of "Dark Lady," danced by Ashley Blair Fitzgerald). A ton of credit must go to director Jason Moore, to writer Rick Elice, and to Cher, the "legend, icon, and diva" who serves as one of producers. If we are going to have to live with bio-musicals as a regular part of the Broadway season, then let The Cher Show serve as an exemplar of the form.

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