How many non-theatergoers – the ideal audience for a musical called THE CHER SHOW – will be furious after they buy their tickets, get in their seats and discover that Cher’s not in it?
Perhaps enough word has spread by now so that everyone who attends THE CHER SHOW will see three actresses play the former Cherilyn Sarkisian.
With three of them talking to each other, Cher almost comes across as a benign Sybil.
Newcomer Micaela Diamond plays Cher as a youngster; “Babe” is how bookwriter Rick Elice has dubbed her in the Playbill.
Teal Wicks portrays her as a teen — too young, really, for the term “Lady.” And yet, that’s what Elice has decided to call her.
Finally, Cher becomes a star which is indeed what Elice chooses for her: Star, with is befitting the star performance by Stephanie J. Block.
Still, she’s not the Cher that people have every right to expect from the title. As fine as all three are, THE CHER SHOW still implies that the Oscar-Grammy-Emmy winner will be in residence. The producers – who include Cher – might have chosen THE SHOW ABOUT CHER as their title to avoid potential trouble.
Many will feel that THE CHER SHOW is pretty troubled itself – or at least sketchy. It has such lines as “It’s been a heck of a year” to establish exposition. And where are the details about daughter Chastity and son Chaz? Must the sex change dare not speak its name?
That’s what happens when the subject of a show is a producer, too.
Hey, here’s a thought: Cher is only a “T” away from getting an EGOT. If THE CHER SHOW wins Best Musical, she’ll have it, albeit not as a performer. But a T is a T.
Don’t bet on it. While stage or film bios often dispense fake news, there seems to be a bit more of it here. Did Cherilyn really decide to change her name to Cher when she was a mere grade-schooler?
Worse of all – and an entry in the I-can’t-believe-it category – there are at least four lines of dialogue that approach homophobia. Doesn’t Elice know how many gay men are going to be inherently interested in this show?
Well, jukebox musicals are all about the songs of yesteryear, anyway. Most Baby Boomers will leave The Neil Simon Theatre with glows on their faces and warmth in their voices when they say to their fellow attendees “Good to hear the old songs again, wasn’t it?”
As for Broadway musical theater aficionados of long-standing, they’ll come out muttering “It is what it is.”
We’ve all seen enough of these jukeboxers to know that they’re showcases for song ‘n’ dance and not much else. So there’s really no need to apply stringent and lofty musical theater standards of yesteryear to such enterprises.
Funny; musical biographies of entertainers and songwriters with their hit songs dominated Hollywood in the ‘40s. Now, for better or worse, Broadway’s taken up the job. Longtime musical theater observers often lament that today’s musicals are too often made from films. Now we’ve taken a film genre and employed it on The Great White – nay, Silver Screen — Way.
Elice could have nevertheless done himself and us a favor by remembering the famous Show-Don’t-Tell advice that librettists learn on the first day of playwriting school. Cher complains to husband Sonny Bono about a birthday party some time back that he had ruined for her. Later she relates an unfortunate incident that had happened on Mother’s Day. Why not show us both in real time so that each scene would really pack a wallop?
Things don’t really get going until Sonny (an amusing but don’t-take-me-seriously Jarrod Spector) comes onto the scene. That he wrote the duo’s first hit “I Got You, Babe” turns out to be prophetic, for he will get Cher where he wants her. The old advice “Never work with friends” is upped exponentially here: “Never work with a spouse.” Sonny makes her sign contracts unfavorable to her without giving her time to read them.
Let’s switch to a scene deep in the second act where
a 35-year-old Cher is auditioning for Richard Altman and is reading very poorly from the script. Finally she admits that she’s dyslexic.
Elice would have done better to establish this learning disability during Cher’s grammar school years; then we’d at least get the impression that she didn’t read a contract because she felt it would be too much for her to absorb. This way, Cher comes across as lazy, careless or too trusting.
Some may argue that in real life Cher wasn’t diagnosed as dyslexic until she was 30. Fine, but she knew for years that she’d had a reading problem. If we saw her struggle early on, we’d know a prime reason why she let Sonny take over legal matters.
By the way, the unnamed Altman production for which Cher auditions – and lands — was the 1982 play COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN. It was a quick flop, but Elice keeps that fact from the audience.
As for Sonny, the scene where they split is nowhere to be found. He isn’t so much dismissed as much as he simply disappears. Elice brings him back in an unorthodox way, but one that’s somewhat satisfying.
Never mind. Like many musicals of today, THE CHER SHOW really is content to replicate a rock concert. As soon as the house lights go down, attendees cheer and clap hands. An audience weaned on seeing everyone from The Stones all the way down to Semi-Precious Weapons is used to applauding even before the performers do a damn thing. It’s rather like an Sonic Lifetime Achievement Award.
As is the case in stadia where the big rock acts play, there’s a video-screen dominating the action so that the people in the faraway seats can at least see something. Here it helps balcony dwellers who might not be able to tell which of the three is playing Cher.
If Block had been allowed to do the entire show, she’d be a lock for the Best Actress in a Musical Tony. She may get it, anyway, for she’s genuinely captured the former Ms. Sarkisian. Her looks are close enough while the rest is spot-on. Block catches the little catch that Cher has in her throaty voice. She has the head-shake, the hair-fluffing moves and the arched back on the high notes down pat, too. Although Block and the others comes thisclose to parody, they never cross the line but keep it all as real as humanly possible.
None of the three Chers is required to be a triple threat. Singing? Of course. Acting? Yes, as much as is asked for. But dancing? Rarely. Christopher Gattelli’s choreography centers on back-up dancers while Cher stands in front singing and only occasionally taking a few perfunctory steps. Some may criticize Gattelli’s work for not being terribly inventive, but it replicates what was seen in TV variety shows of the era. No, it’s not dazzling, but it is at least apt.
Emily Skinner does well as Cher’s mother who consoles her daughter after her schoolmates mock her for being “a half-breed.” Since when has being an Armenian-American certified that status? Did Cher really endure such humiliation? A more likely answer is that Elice needed to insert that 1973 gold record “Half-Breed” any way he could into the show.
Skinner excels too when telling her young daughter that she can Be All That She Can Be. However, Skinner is a complete misfire when she must play a scene in which Lucille Ball gives Cher some advice and moral support.
If you went to the restroom before this sequence began, returned in the middle of it and had your seatmate ask you “Who do you think that is on stage with Cher?” you’d never answer “Lucy.” Alas, Skinner doesn’t have a single convincing second as the TV legend.
Jason Moore, who has otherwise directed the show slickly and impeccably, made a big mistake here. He should have first found a perfect Lucille Ball imitator; after all, any decent actress of a certain age could play Mama Cher which is neither a demanding nor a big role. But you want attendees to swoon in delight when they immediately recognize their beloved Lucy.
Skinner can’t get that kind of reaction.
Should Bob Mackie’s costumes be eligible for any of the springtime awards? In recent years, such plays as THREE TALL WOMEN, LOBBY HERO, JITNEY and BLACKBIRD that had reached Broadway years after they’d solely been off-Broadway attractions weren’t placed in the Best Play category but Best Revival. So many of Mackie’s costumes are revivals of what Cher has worn through the years, so they shouldn’t be eligible.
That said, they’re everything from outrageously dazzling to ludicrously terrific. Clarence in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE had to wait two hours before he got his wings, but Cher shows us Mackie’s at the start of the show.
If it all seems very Las Vegas, well, why should a locale define entertainment? Anything that pleases people should be welcomed everywhere. Tourists who have been to Vegas – or even those who can’t travel there – can get the experience right on West 52nd Street. Yes, SUMMER will be leaving the Lunt-Fontanne just as winter begins, but THE CHER SHOW may be a musical for many more seasons.