Dec 3, 2018
From the moment the houselights dim and the music cranks up on The Cher Show, Broadway’s newest bio-musical, the message is clear. Surrender to the fabulousness ahead and brace yourself for a show just as gutsy, glitzy and glam as the icon it ravishingly celebrates.
Rick Elice, who reinvented the jukebox musical with JERSEY BOYS by crafting a way for hit songs to augment a stage story rather than overwhelm it, pulls the same trick when telling the tale of a talented, but very shy 16-year-old girl who, after years of allowing powerful men to reinvent her for their own profit, took control of her career and started reinventing herself.
Set designers Christine Jones and Brett J. Banakis, lighting designer Kevin Adams and the legendary costume designer Bob Mackie provide shamelessly dazzling visuals that define director Jason Moore‘s slick production as a concert spectacular (or sometimes as a television variety show) with a plot.
Our host for the evening is the movie star and concert diva “Star” Cher, played with smashing conviction, self-effacing humor and infinite stage power by Stephanie J. Block. Her two special guests for the evening are Micaela Diamond as “Babe” Cher, who grows from a child named Cherilyn Sarkisian to a studio backup singer to a 1960s mod pop star when teamed with Sonny Bono, and Teal Wicks as “Lady” Cher, who gets reinvented in Las Vegas as a dry quipster and drives television censors crazy on “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour,” by wearing Mackie’s revealing creations.
Though last season’s Donna Summer bio-musical, SUMMER, also had three women playing the title role, Elice more effectively uses his trio, penning clever banter between them that has Star second-guessing her life decisions, Babe being floored to find out what she’ll someday achieve and Lady finding the arch humor behind it all.
Emily Skinner strides confidently as Cher’s loving mom Georgia Holt, offering good advice when the child complains about schoolmates making fun of her. (Skinner also makes a terrific second act appearance as a certain entertainment icon Cher once turned to for advice.) The early mother/daughter scenes use only snippets of the songs “Half-Breed” and “You Better Sit Down, Kids” as they apply to the story. Everything is a steady build to the first time Sonny and Cher publicly sing “I Got You, Babe” with the frightened beginner leaning on her mentor and new lover for support until she learns to bask in the spotlight. It’s a climax that brings down the house.
Jarrod Spector‘s Sonny Bono may very well have you believing in spiritual possession, though his complete nailing of the personality, the mannerisms and especially the singing voice of the late singer/songwriter is more likely the result of excellent acting skills.
Wicks’ comic chemistry with Spector perfectly replicates the appeal the couple exuded on the small screen, but though their popularity soars, their personal life suffers, as Bono is shown as a control freak and workaholic. After their divorce, Cher marries southern rocker Gregg Allman (Matthew Hydzik), whose drug use and desire rescue his wife from the Hollywood rat race by taking her home to Georgia leads to their split-up. Her relationship with bagel shop worker Rob Camilletti (Michael Campayno) goes south because he can’t adjust to her career demands.
It seems the only man who really gets Cher is Mackie, played with delightful verve by Michael Berresse. A first act highlight has the ensemble in a fashion parade of some of the most outrageous designs he’s created for her. Berresse also plays Robert Altman, who casts Cher on Broadway in COME BACK TO THE 5 & DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN, a move that helps introduces the vocalist and sketch comedy performer to the industry as a legit actor.
Dressed in a sparkling mini-dress, Diamond positively shines with star-quality confidence as Babe comments on Star’s climb to movie stardom by leading the ensemble in an attitude-infused frug to “The Beat Goes On.” Another dazzling dance moment supplied by choreographer Christopher Gattelli has Ashley Blair Fitzgerald seducing Bono, Allman and every man in the ensemble with a ferocious Apache dance to “Dark Lady.”
While The Cher Show is flashy entertainment from start to finish, full of vibrant artists giving splashy turns, the center of it all is Block’s solidly grounded acting performance, portraying a woman trying to maintain an idealized public image while privately grasping for control of her career in a business that hasn’t quite heard the messages of the growing Feminist movement. Whether camping it up for “Turn Back Time” or ripping her heart out in “The Way Of Love” Block commands attention as Cher discovers her own path to liberation through self-reinvention.