By Barry Reszel
The woman born Cherilyn Sarkisian has spent her life desirous of elusive public adoration more than the unquestionable fame she’s achieved on stage and screen. Along her celebrated life’s journey, 72-year-old pop icon Cher has likely never been accused of playing it safe.
Because as producer of The Cher Show, the musical biopic of the decorated singer/actress currently in its pre-Broadway preview run at Chicago’s Oriental Theatre, Cher gets to be the ultimate decision maker on elements of the production of her life. But in its current iteration, much like the life it reflects, this show is complicated and messy; however, unlike reality, the stage version offers too few flashes of tenderness or brilliance.
Overall, The Cher Show is relatively informative and mildly entertaining. With a fabulous jukebox songbook spanning multiple decades and styles, a stellar Sonny Bono (Jarrod Spector) and a magnificent trio of belting musical theatre actresses portraying her at various ages (Micaela Diamond as “Babe,” Teal Wicks as “Lady” and Stephanie J. Block as “Star”), the cast assembled (including a ridiculously talented ensemble) does all it can with the material given.
But given the dynamic subject matter (read about Cher’s intriguing life story here), her life as presented (book by Rick Elice) lacks the passion it richly deserves. As such, audiences leave the theatre appreciative, not fascinated; aware of her many talents, not in awe of them; liking Cher, not adoring the Goddess of Pop. That’s because none of the characters—not the three Chers, not Sonny, not her omnipotent mother Georgia Holt (lovingly portrayed by Emily Skinner)—elicit much emotional investment as currently written.
It’s telltale and appropriate that the largest ovation at the press performance was awarded to Michael Berresse as fashion designer Bob Mackie. In fact, if this production opens on Broadway this December, as widely rumored, Mackie, who is Cher’s longtime costume designer and has taken on that title for The Cher Show, will be odds-on favorite to win next year’s Tony.
All this said, it’s critical to point out that Cher is vitally aware. As she told the Chicago Tribune June 25 after attending a preview performance, “Some parts of it are really fabulous. We’re going to work on the other parts. In many parts, it was much, much better than I thought it would be. And there were no parts where I wanted to gouge my eyes out. It needs work. I’m not supposed to say that but I don’t care.”
Brava, Cher. Because a dynamic woman who’s lived life with rare authenticity by making against-the-grain career and life choices should not consider today, at age 72, working as the producer of her own life story for the Broadway stage, the appropriate time to start doing what she’s supposed to do.
The surety of this diva’s self-confidence and drive is among the key reasons patrons should find a way to see this production in progress. To be sure, when it returns to the Windy City during or following its Broadway engagement, The Cher Show will be different than it looks and sounds this summer. That underscores Chicago’s importance to the incubation of new musical theatre.
So go appreciate Cher today. Prepare to adore her tomorrow. Let’s do this, bitches!
Broadway in Chicago presents “The Cher Show” through July 15 at The Oriental Theatre, 24 W Randolf Street, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.