(l to r) Teal Wicks, Stephanie J. Block, and Micaela Diamond in ‘The Cher Show.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus)
By the time we bear witness to Cher’s three incarnations battling out one more internal struggle with zingers like, “We don’t leave you,” and “We are you! You need us!” — you may feel like screaming “Snap out of it!” — the GIF-worthy line from the star’s Oscar-winning performance in Moonstruck.
Therein lies the not-quite-fatal flaw in The Cher Show, which opens tonight on Broadway at The Neil Simon Theatre. A recent Kennedy Center Honors recipient, Cher (born Cherilyn Sarkisian) has reinvented herself time and again throughout her decades-spanning career, earning accolades including that aforementioned Oscar, along with an Emmy and Grammy. Entertainment impresario David Geffen describes her as “a woman who pushed boundaries, set her own rules, and dared to try everything. She’s a true hero, and she has changed millions of lives for the better.”
There’s so much ground to cover — from the absence of a paternal role model in her early years to her tumultuous relationship with husband and business partner Sonny Bono (Jerrod Spector) to her foray into theater and film — that all of the time Cher spends talking to herself as Star (Stephanie J. Block), Lady (Teal Wicks) and Babe (Micaela Diamond) might be better utilized in deepening the relationships with those who impacted her life.
I imagine most theatergoers will be forgiving of Rick Elice’s book (Jersey Boys), which still offers plenty of punchy one-liners delivered with a lip-licking head snap for which the icon is known. Unlike Summer: The Donna Summer Musical (scheduled to close on December 30 after a nine-month run), The Cher Show rarely takes itself too seriously, but when it does, the musical offers a captivating glance into Cher’s evolution from shy outsider to multi-faceted star.
Of the three, Ms. Block most closely embodies the Cher that we know and love. The underdog star debuted on Broadway 15 years ago as Liza Minnelli in The Boy From Oz, and tackles the Cher songbook with similar pitch-perfect aplomb, mastering the singer’s unique vibrato and vocal inflections. Ms. Block’s sharp comedic timing (“I exercise. I even named my dog ‘6 miles’ so I can say I walk 6 miles every day.”) is equally as captivating, as are her more vulnerable moments such as an audition scene with Robert Altman (one of three roles played by the chameleon-like Michael Berresse) — crying on cue to prove her acting chops to the veritable director.
Ms. Wicks and Ms. Diamond also have their moments in the spotlight, such as the latter’s song and dance feature to Sonny & Cher’s 1967 Billboard hit “The Beat Goes On,” which consolidates the actress’s 1980s film career into a glittery, Fosse-like number choreographed by Christopher Gattelli.
In Cher’s Broadway world, everyone is beautiful (at least on the outside), exemplified by its gorgeous cast, costumed in the sequined creations of nine-time Emmy winner Bob Mackie. The real-life, longtime collaborators hit a roadblock in 2014 when Mr. Mackie’s commitments prevented him from designing her “Dressed to Kill” tour. Fortunately for theater audiences, the pair resolved their differences, and those flamboyant headdresses, feathers, and body-hugging gowns parade across the stage in glittery glory.
Director Jason Moore (Shrek, Avenue Q) keeps things moving swiftly amid Christine Jones and Brett J. Banakis’s suggestive scenic design, which offers cinematic appeal and stadium-like theatrics for some of the flashier production numbers thanks to in-your-face lighting by Kevin Adams and appropriately amped sound design (Nevin Steinberg), including a nod to auto-tuning, featured prominently in her 1998 dance hit, “Believe.”
But with so much ground to cover, Cher’s personal relationships (with the exception of Sonny Bono) are kept simmering on the back burner.
Cher’s mother Georgia Holt (a glowing Emily Skinner, who also delivers an uncredited campy cameo as Lucille Ball), second husband Gregg Allman (Matthew Hydzik), and blue-collar, bagel-making boyfriend Rob Camilletti (Michael Campayno) breeze in and out of the picture, offering glimpses of Cher’s life behind the music, but there’s rarely time to become emotionally invested before an alternate Cher steps in to steal the scene.
In one of the musical’s final scenes, we witness Cher swapping her Oscar grip for a can of hairspray. After a two-year dry spell, she needed work and wasn’t ashamed to admit it: “I’ve had people laughing at me my whole life; I know what it sounds like,” she says to a snickering cameraman. “But you know what, buddy? I’m okay with it.”
Cher, still standing strong at 72 years old, just released her 26th studio album (the ABBA-inspired Dancing Queen) and hits the road in 2019 on her “Here We Go Again” tour, including a residency at the Park MGM in Las Vegas. Her fortitude is nothing to laugh at, and while The Cher Show is no substitute for the real thing, it’s a well-earned tribute to the Queen of Reinvention.
The Cher Show
The Neil Simon Theatre
250 West 52nd Street, NYC
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor and chief critic. Read more of his work at wexlerwrites.com.