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A CurtainUp Review
The Cher Show
By Elyse Sommer
Why not indeed? Granted, plenty of these jukesicals haven't matched the long-term success their subjects; to wit, the recently opened Summer about disco queen Donna Summer is headed to an early grave. But to make producers forget about money lost on the duds and keep raiding the jukebox for more we have the Four Seasons, Abba and Carole King tributes like Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia and Beautiful
The now 72-year-young Cher is still touring and certainly has a large chart-topping catalogue to dig into. What's more, her fame in so many areas, makes her fan base even more broad-based and bigger than that of most pop music stars. And, with Rick Elice, who helped Jersey Boys to be a jukebox musical juggernaut, on board to write the book, The Cher Show now at the Neil Simon Theatre seems well positioned to be one of Broadway's golden egg laying geese.
Judging from the packed and enthusiastic house and the opinion of my guest, a Cher fan from way back, the goose may indeed have hatched a hit. However, If, like me, you're not as familiar with the songs loved by die-hard Cher-ists, The Cher Show will come off more like a brass than pure gold egg.
When I went to see Jersey Boys a bakers' dozen years ago, I knew and liked some of the Four Seasons' songs but I wasn't a die-hard fan; nor did I know much about their lives. While this is again the case with Cher's musical playbook, I would have had to be asleep with Rip Van Winkle not to know who Cher is, about her famous professional and personal partnership with Sonny Bono, or know what she looks like from countless in print and on screen news stories or her Oscar winning role in Moonstruck.
Though I warmed almost instantly to the book and music of Jersey Boys, I can't say that the loud and glitzy Las Vegas-y opening of The Cher Show pulled me right in. The set-up of the Cher-bio book ended by an in-the-works TV memoir is serviceable in terms of accommodating Cher's amazingly long and diverse divadom, but it hardly warrants being described as fresh and original.
Though Elice and director Jason Moore do capture the spirit of this multi-faceted woman, I couldn't shake the sense that the theater named for a venerable playwright had a genie somehow transform the place . into Caesar's Palace as I was taking my seat. That said, this Las Vegas-comes-to Broadway show does sandwich in the songs that its core audience— the Cher devotees — have come for — "I Got You, Babe," "If I Could Turn Back Time" and, "Believe" ("Believe" is used as the theme song for Cher's entire journey from needy to can-do-it-all my way woman).
Given the extensive personal and career path to be covered, the gimmicky device of having three Chers to interact constantly with each other in order to present one total Cher persona works quite well (and at least better than in the quickly retired Donna Summer) — mainly because all the Chers handle their interactions ably and manage to channel the familiar Cher contralto to deliver the multitude of solos, duets and trios.
Block as the present day Cher isn't named Star for nothing. She's very much the star of this .glitzy enterprise. Still, as she explains during the propulsively staged mock TV memoir scene that's essentially a prologue, she's invited two "guests" to step in as her teen self (Broadway newcomer Micaella Diamond-Babe) and as the older emerging "Goddess-Warrier-With-Wings" (Teal Wicks-Lady). As Block's Cher puts it, the story of how a once shy girl became "a grown-ass woman earning her living prancing around in a sling-shot and sparkles" is easier to tell "when I'm all here." And, as my Cher championing guest pointed out, it was their Las Vegas-y personas that propelled Cher and Sonny Bono to stardom.
As for the men who are important to this decidedly independent woman (as per one of her interviews: "I don't need a man. But I'm happier with one"), they too add to what's okay about the show. Jarrod Spector who was a standout as songwriter Barry Mann in Beautiful the Carole King Musical, portrayal of Sonny Bono makes you see why she loved him but had to leave him if she was ever going to be her own person. Matthew Hydzik and Michael Campayno make the most of their appearances as Cher's second husband Gregg Allman and her much younger lover Rob Camiletti. Best of all the men is Michael Beresse as Bob Mackie, the costume wizard responsible for making Cher as famous for her costumes as what she did in them. Fortunately, the real Bob Mackie is the show's costume designer and so we get costumes that replicate the original pieces worn by Cher in music videos, television specials, concerts, and award shows. If I had to name a single star of this show, Mackie would be my hands down choice, though Charles G. LaPointe's wig and hair design also deserves a hand.
Not to be overlooked as one of the show's pleasures, is Emil Skinner as Cher's mom Georgia Holt. Having married six times because in her day you didn't just live with someone, this mom admires her daughter's breaking free from Sonny Bono and forging a solo career. Yet, old customs die hard so we hear her telling Cher she'd like to see her settle down and marry a rich man to which Cher replies "Oh mother, I am a rich man" — a response that brings the house down. That Me#Too resonating exchange is amusingly expanded in Skinner's brief and hilarious appearance as another independent media star, Lucille Ball.
With more scenes like the one showcasing a whole bunch of Bob Mackie's eye-popping fashions, or more production numbers with the razzle dazzle of "Dark Lady", perhaps I could recommend The Cher Show as the best jukebox musical to have arrived on the Great White way. Maybe the only one who could really make Cher's story soar would be the ageless "goddess" herself.
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he Cher Show
Book by Rick Elice;
Directed by Jason Moore
Choreographed by Christopher Gattelli
Principal Cast Members: Stephanie J. Block (Star),Micaela Diamond(Babe),. Teal Wicks(Lady), Michael Berresse(Bob Mackie/Robert Altman/Frank),Michael Campayno(Rob Camilletti/Lee), Matthew Hydzik(Gregg Allman/John Southall), Emily Skinner(Georgia Holt),Jarrod Spector(Sonny Bono).
Ensemble:Marija Juliette Abney, Carleigh Bettiol, Taurean Everett, Michael Fatica, Ashley Blair Fitzgerald, Michael Graceffa, Blaine Alden Krauss, Sam Lips, Allie Meixner, Tiana Okoye, Angel Reda, Chrstipher Vo, Alena Watters, Charlie Williams
Scenic Design by Christine Jones and Brett J. Banakis
Costume Design by Bob Mackie
Lighting Design by Kevin Adams
Sound Design by Nevin Steinberg
Video Design by Darrel Maloney
Projection Design by Darrel Maloney
Hair and Wig Design by Charles G. LaPointe
Makeup Design by Cookie Jordan
Music orchestrated andarranged by Daryl Waters
Dance Music Arrangements by Daryl Waters and Zane Mark
Musical Director: Andrew Resnick
Production Stage Manager: Michael J. Passaro
Stage Manager: Michelle Bosch
Running Time: 2 1/2 hours with 1 intermission
Neil Simon W. 52nd Street
From 11/01/18; opening 12/03/18.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 12/01 press matinee
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