Friday, June 15, 2018

Cher and Cher Alike: Pre-Broadway 'The Cher Show' Proves a Fun Night to Share with Friends, Not Sheer Brilliance-- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

The Cher Show
Pre-Broadway World Premiere
Thru July 15
Oriental Theatre, Chicago

(Note: I attended the first preview as part of my Broadway in Chicago subscription. This somewhat brief review is my assessment of the show I paid to see, while offering the caveat that modifications and improvements will likely be made. It is not meant to dissuade anyone from seeing it.)

I have genuine appreciation for Cher as a multi-talented woman who has enjoyed an impressively long and diverse career.

I remember fondly watching The Sonny & Cher Show as a kid, and I like the couple's #1 hit, "I Got You Babe."

Beyond that, while not a detractor, I really can't call myself a fan.

I have never owned any music by Cher in any incarnation, her scantily-clad 1989 video for "If I Can Turn Back Time" tends to make me cringe, as does 1998's auto-tuned dance smash "Believe"--though both songs make for ear worms--and I haven't ever watched her Oscar-winning performance in Moonstruck (for no good reason).

To be clear, Cher is not in The Cher Show.
So I have to assume that aside from some fellow Broadway in Chicago subscribers, most who see The Cher Show--whether at the Oriental Theater or when it reaches Broadway this fall--will have considerably greater innate affinity for its namesake icon. (To be clear, Cher is not in this show, nor seemingly has much if any involvement.)

Given that--thanks to a superb cast, great costuming by the legendary Bob Mackie and several songs I can't deny enjoying--I was suitably entertained, I have to imagine Cher fanatics will be even more smitten (especially if some adjustments are made).

You'll hear "I Got You Babe"--with longtime Jersey Boys star Jarrod Spector making for a fine Sonny--and most other songs you'd expect, including "Dark Lady," "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," "Half-Breed" (sung by the terrific Emily Skinner as Cher's mom), "If I Could Turn Back Time" and, of course, "Believe."

At times, there are 10 actresses on stage embodying Cher--in wonderful Mackie outfits--but three primarily split the part: Stephanie J. Block, Teal Wicks, Micaela Diamond, who represent, in descending order, more and less seasoned versions of the star, although they're also often onstage together.

All three are excellent, with Block and Wicks bringing impressive Broadway credits.

As one would hope, the singing in this show is superlative.

But while like director Jason Moore (Avenue Q) and Tony-winning choreographer Christopher Gattelli (Newsies), book writer Rick Elice has a stellar pedigree--his script for Jersey Boys makes it the best jukebox musical ever from a narrative standpoint--at this stage The Cher Show feels too episodic, and as a result lacks depth and emotional engagement.

Certainly, there is much to cover in a biographical show about Cher, who met Sonny Bono when she was 16 and remains quite famous at 72.

I appreciated the glimpse into her early life with Sonny, and being reminded of how Cher's early stage outfits--before Mackie--had a great influence on hippie culture.

In addition to Sonny & Cher's rise, The Cher Show runs through their success in Las Vegas and on television, and also their marital discord, divorce, ongoing friendship and Sonny's death in 1998.

Cher's second husband, Gregg Allman (Matthew Hydzik), also gets stage time--and a song--as does Rob Camilletti (Michael Campayno), who she dated in the late '80s. Other lovers are also mentioned.

And Cher's successful theater and movie career is also significantly broached, with Robert Altman (Michael Berresse, who also plays Bob Mackie) making an appearance.

There's a lot to pack in, and the first performance ran nearly 3 hours (including intermission). I imagine throughout previews and even as the show preps for Broadway, the creative team will continue to tinker with what to keep in, take out and tighten.

So it's certainly possible that what I saw as a @@@1/2 (out of 5) musical will get better, but unless it's massively overhauled to allow for greater emotional heft, it's hard to see The Cher Show becoming more than a @@@@ jukebox musical that appeals to her fans more than to patrons who simply loves musicals.

At this point, it's not as theatrically stellar as Beautiful: The Carole King Musical or On Your Feet! about Gloria Estefan, two relatively recently musicals based around iconic female vocalists. (Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, is also now running on Broadway.)

As noted at top, true rapture for this show is something I'll probably never quite be able to Cher, but I have reasons to "Believe" others may love it, especially with some judicious nips and tucks along the way.

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