Friday, December 7, 2018

128 (2018-2019): Review: THE CHER SHOW (seen December 6, 2018)

“Dressed to Kill”

As I squeezed my way up the aisle through the ecstatic crowd leaving The Cher Show I ran into a fellow critic who greeted me with a big smile, saying, “Wasn’t that a shitload of fun?!” I was forced to drop my critical guard and admit it damned sure was, and my middle-aged daughter agreed, even noting later on Facebook that “it’s going down as my all-time favorite.”
Jarrod Spector, Micaela Diamond. Photo: Joan Marcus.
That goes way too far for me, of course, but there’s no denying that The Cher Show, a jukebox musical based on the life and music of Cherilyn Sarkisian—Cher to the world—is extremely entertaining, and not in the mindless way you might expect. Still, most people will go to The Cher Show not for the inspiration it provides but for its slick celebration of songs, singing, sequins, skin, sex, and spectacle. Not to mention Sonny—Bono, that is.

We’re talking about an eye-poppingly lavish, musically engaging show whose producers, Flody Suarez and Jeffrey Seller, aren’t afraid to go overboard in order to replicate the visual excess associated with the Goddess of Pop. The Cher Show even introduces a fashion show displaying a dazzling gallery of the most memorable, over-the-top outfits master designer Bob Mackie (who designed the show’s costumes) created during the glamorous diva’s career.
Micaela Diamond and company. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Few shows since the heyday of the Ziegfeld Follies have so imaginatively glorified the female form, a form the tall, slender, 72-year-old Cher still has. Mackie’s significance in bolstering Cher’s image even qualifies him to be a character in the show, where he’s one of a trio of characters enacted by the terrific Michael Berrese.
Michael Berrese. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Talking of trios, that’s the approach taken by book writer Rick Elice (Jersey Boys) in portraying Cher, a device reminiscent of the one used to portray Donna Summer in another jukebox biomusical, the soon-to-close Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. Micaela Diamond is “Babe,” or the young Cher; Teal Wicks is “Lady,” or mid-career Cher; and Stephanie J. Block is “Star,” or the mature Cher, who aggregates all the best features of her earlier incarnations.

Thus do we watch a  a shy, dyslexic kid molt into the fabulous superstar with whom we’re most familiar. If her unstoppable career is any indication, there may yet be other Chers waiting to one day make their radiant entrance.
Stephanie J. Block and company. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Cleverly, Elice has the three Chers often appear in tandem, commenting to each other on issues in the star’s life, and frequently singing together. Each perfectly bewigged (by Charles G. LaPointe) performer offers a simulacrum of Cher’s powerful, from the gut, belting voice.

Most of the attention is garnered by Block’s remarkable replication, not only of Cher’s vocal qualities, but of her earthy personality, ready wit, and striking appearance (post rhinoplasty, dental, and other procedures, of course). If hers isn’t a Tony-qualifying performance, I haven’t been going to Broadway shows since 1945.
Stephanie J. Block. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Christine Jones and Brett J. Banakis’s efficient set of multiple units serves admirably for the show’s numerous scenes, which depend largely on Kevin Adams’s razzle-dazzle lighting and Darrel Maloney’s exciting projection design. Backed by a bodacious bevy of Broadway’s buffest bodies, The Cher Show races headlong through the highlights of Cher’s on- and offstage life.

We don’t meet her Armenian-American dad, but we do get to visit with her glamorous, six-times married, show-biz mother, Georgia Holt (Emily Skinner, sensational; she also does a stand-out Lucille Ball) and an alcoholic stepfather, John Southall (Matthew Hydzik). We see the teenage Cher meeting Sonny Bono (Jarrod Spector, a virtual Sonny avatar), the height-challenged singer-comedian over whom she towered.
Jarrod Spector. Photo: Joan Marcus.
As telescoped here, after he helped her get started as a backup singer for producer Phil Spector, Sonny used his acumen to team up with her and rocket them to recording and (controversial) TV stardom, with numbers like “The Shoop Shoop Song” and “I Got You, Babe.” Inevitably, greed, overwork, and control issues ignited their divorce, rousing Cher to take her destiny into her own hands.
Jarrod Spector, Teal Wicks. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Cher’s professional ascent and temporary decline, which even led to her doing hairspray infomercials, is tracked in mostly bite-sized pieces, as is her climb to acting on Broadway and in movies (where she won an Oscar) and the big tours she’s done over the past two decades. A lot of ground gets covered late in the show as time moves forward to the insistent rhythm of “And the Beat Goes On.”

There are also her love affairs with drug-using, singer-guitarist Gregg Allman (also Hydzik), of the long, blonde hair, and, among others, the one—when she was 40—with 23-year-old Rob Camilletti (Michael Campayno), a bagel maker from Queens. All the while, we see her struggling to find the impossible balance between the demands of supernova stardom and those of being a mother, wife, and (more or less) normal person.
Teal Wicks, Stephanie J. Block, Micaela Diamond. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Musically, The Cher Show, which contains 35 tunes, frequently (although not always) incorporates the star’s best-known hits into the narrative to accent major events, like having her sing “My Baby Shot Me Down” when she and Sonny break up. Her Armenian ancestry inspires the song “Half-Breed,” and you can figure out how “If I Could Turn Back Time” or “When the Money’s Gone” could fit in.
Company of The Cher Show. Photo: Joan Marcus.
On the other hand, female empowerment can be felt in “You Haven’t Heard the Last of Me” and “Believe,” meant to inspire anyone who’s been down not to give up the fight and to take control of their lives. When Block sings “The Way of Love” you’ll feel she’s earned every dollar you spent to buy your ticket. You may even want to come back and buy another.
Ashley Blair Fitzgerald. Photo: Joan Marcus.
With smashing direction by Jason Moore and showy, Vegas-like choreography by Christopher Gattelli (who gives Ashley Blair Fitzgerald a showstopping Apache routine to “Dark Lady”), The Cher Show delivers the kind of slam-bang flash and glitter you expect from a musical about the Goddess of Pop. 

Cher fans will, of course, miss a few personal details the show glosses over, but there’s enough gossipy juice in its two-hours and 20 minutes to satisfy most people’s curiosity, set hearts racing, and get toes tapping. My friend said it and I’ll say it again: The Cher Show is “a shitload of fun.”
Matthew Hydzik, Emily Skinner, Jarrod Spector, Micaela Diamond, Stephanie J. Block, Teal Wicks, Michael Barrese, Michael Campayno. Photo: Joan Marcus.


Neil Simon Theatre
250 W. 52nd St., NYC
Open run