The Cher Show on Broadway

The-cher-show-chicago-opening-night-2018-06-hrI’m going to see this show in a few weeks (as well as Network with Bryan Cranston!) so I’ll probably have more to say about it then; but along with many other Cher things, the real impact of this remains to be seen. I, myself, love musicals. But jukebox musicals seems kind of odd to me so I’m not 100% the perfect audience for this. Regardless, any kind of Cher bio has the potential to reveal some aspect of the Cher phenomenon (so similar to the Tony Ferrino Phenomenon) that we haven't been able to pin down yet, although many new writers are trying (which is much appreciated in Cher scholarship).

I’ll talk about all that more next week or so when I get into all the Cher essays that have been pouring out. These have been very informative, especially in how they speak back to this Broadway show and how it fails or succeeds. 

But for the moment, let’s just deal with the initial reviews of the show and how it’s doing right now.

You can keep track of the show’s weekly grosses here: https://www.broadwayworld.com/grosses/THE-CHER-SHOW

Show merch is also available,

You can also follow the show on Facebook.

Jerrod Spector is also doing a video blog with very cool behind the scenes footage called It’s Always Sonny.

News

On opening night, Kayne West and Kim Kardashian made news at the show.

There was also red carpet videos with the cast and prominent audience members like Rosie O’Donnell, Kathy Griffin and Bernadette Peters doing a Cher impression (remember she was on The Sonny & Cher Show's Christmas episode of 1976). Young Cher says  that Cher is a planet with gravitational pull. Cher herself says she doesn’t know what the theme of her show is beyond just entertainment: 

Cher singing with the cast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vpo5bo-rqfw  (the cast looks starstruck performing with her).

More audience Q&A, Rosie O’Donnell calls out Cher’s Westside Story performance, Bernadette Peters says Cher took chances, is glamourous and down to earth), Tiny Fey says she watched the show growing up and wanted to work on a variety show like that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FQ4YWakLsE

Another AOL post show interview with Cher. 

A Rolling Stone piece on Chaz Bono’s recent visit and speculation about the lack of his transgendering story in the show. 


Cher-at-showReviews

One of the best early reviews was from The New York Post

“Granted, the jukebox musical that opened on Broadway Monday night has some clumsy and dopey dialogue. The story — a 50-50 mix of narration (yawn) and not-quite-skin-deep dramatization — tracing the pop goddess’s personal and professional ups and downs won’t surprise those with even a passing knowledge of Cher. Or access to Wikipedia.

Still, it’s thrilling watching the 72-year-old diva’s rags-to-riches-and-back-again life woven by wall-to-wall hits — “Bang Bang,” “The Beat Goes On,” “Half-Breed” and “Believe,” among them….Between director Jason Moore’s flashy, fleshy, fluid staging and choreographer Christopher Gattelli’s high-energy and ridiculously sexy dances — wait till you see the steamy “Dark Lady” — the production is light on its feet, too….“The Cher Show” merits a bright, shiny, bedazzling “B.” Joe Dziemianowicz

Weeks later, this better review appeared (as a second review) in The New York Times.

Laura Collins Hughes calls the show “analgesic fun” (analgesic means painkiller) and that it “doesn’t meant to be highbrow; the constraints of the genre don’t allow it….it’s a genre with a quantity of cheese baked in....[but the show] takes Cher seriously. She liked that the creators didn’t follow the colon template for jukebox musicals (i.e. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, Tima: The Tina Turner Musical, Gloria: A Life). And although she can’t quite call it a feminist musical, she says  “women…[including the supportive mother] dominate.” And says it’s about “how a famous American came defiantly into her power in a culture that expected demure acquiescence, and who along the way discovered herself....[with] clothing being one of the ways that she rebelled.” She says the Cher musical is less tighter in focus than Beautiful but gives Cher Show props for being “spikier” with “more bantering humor.” And she likes the convention of the three women with their tender tributes between each other and the small moments of historical revisionism (baby Chastity being wrapped in a blue baby blanket). She claims the musical “strips away her masks to reveal a person underneath.”

But that said, most of the reviews have not been good. But not good for very interesting reasons (all involving what Cher brings to the table as a performer, but we’ll get into that on a later day). Biopics or bio-theater is really hard to pull off. The movie Bohemian Rhapsody is an exception and succeeding primarily for its exceptional casting and for the fact that it contained its narrative into a finite period of dramatic time. You still can’t argue with Aristotle. And arguably, the creators made their bio-story-challenge even harder than it had to be when they tried to run the gamut from Cher as little kid to Cher as old lady. But if you were to ask me what period or Cher-time or what story line in her life is indicative of the whole, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. Big challenge this one. And quite possibly Cher’s life a survivor is due to the fact that her life was spread out over 50 years and not a flame-out or a salacious bit of gossip in a small set of time.

But anyway, here we go...

The New York Times  

“There’s a fine line between tacky and spectacular. In creating costumes for Cher over the years — costumes that often tell the story of a shy woman emerging triumphant from a chrysalis — the designer Bob Mackie has kept on the right side of the line by making sure the level of craft supports the extravagance of the gesture.

Sadly that’s not the case with “The Cher Show,” the maddening mishmash of a new musical that opened on Monday at the Neil Simon Theater. Except for the dozens of eye-popping outfits Mr. Mackie gorgeously recreates for the occasion, it’s all gesture, no craft: dramatically threadbare and surprisingly unrevealing. That’s too bad because, reading between the paillettes, you get the feeling that the 72-year-old singer-actress-survivor is a good egg: self-mocking, plain speaking and a hoot. Whether that’s enough to build a Broadway musical on is another question, one “The Cher Show,” striving to be agreeable, never gets close to answering. Rather, its energies are waylaid in trying to solve the puzzle of its own concept, of which weird vestiges remain after a tryout in Chicago. ...you can’t distinguish scenes meant to borrow comedy-hour elements from those meant to be taken at face value. Complicating matters is the decision to confine such an unconventional figure as Cher in the straitjacket of the biographical jukebox musical [Unlike Funny Girl] “The Cher Show” falls into all of them. It wastes so much time hammering its biographical bullet points and tunestack into place, despite logic or chronology, that it never seems to notice the unintelligible result...Though Jarrod Spector gets Sonny’s Napoleon complex just right, he also gives him an adenoidal honk so exaggerated as to render him cute and harmless. Must a musical intended for popular consumption defang the anger of its powerful subject and, in doing so, whitewash her most interesting problems?...This is where the jukebox problem and the star-splitting problem converge with the craft problem. With too many character arcs and agendas to serve — three Chers, several careers, 35 songs or parts thereof — the show’s creators can serve none well...Yes, it argues way too hard for Cher’s significance — a significance it would be better off merely assuming and then complicating. And yes, it gets whiny just when you want it to get fierce.”  Jesse Green

In all fairness, we find out in this review that the Jesse Green hates jukebox musicals and so was a very problematic choice to review this one. He duly notes this in his review and links to a conversation among theater critics about the flaws of the jukebox genre. It’s worth a read and a chance to note that Mr. Green hates jukebox musicals more than any of the other critic in the conversation: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/29/theater/jukebox-musicals-broadway.html

Variety 

“Choosing to recreate the spirit of the television variety shows that Sonny and Cher — and then Cher sans Sonny — headlined in the ‘70s is a choice that lands as flat as the jokes in Broadway’s latest jukebox bio... the script never quite finds a satisfying style — or a genuine heart — as a winning stage musical. As Cher might say: Broadway’s a bitch….echoing the threesome approach of the soon-to-be-shuttered Donna Summer musical. Here there’s a bit more banter in Rick Elice’s sketchy, every-scene-is-a song-cue script….What “The Cher Show” rarely does is get real, despite the tell-it-like-it-is attitude of its subject. It only takes itself semi-seriously, keeping genuine emotion at arm’s length. The audience witnesses all of Cher’s struggles — including the dip into infomercial-land — and triumphs, but is not especially moved by them, since it’s filtered through the obviousness of the script and the cool aloofness of its protagonist….The pleasures in the show come from individual performances…” Frank Rizzo

Time Out

“...the show whirls through six decades at a dizzying pace that disguises, up to a point, that it doesn’t have much to stand on.” Adam Feldman who give it less than a star

Entertainment Weekly

 

“Into the jukebox musical tent pitched by Beatlemania, and since populated by pop stars from Frankie Valli to Gloria Estefan, comes The Cher Show….If you love Cher there is probably nothing I could write here that would keep you away from The Cher Show.  No discussion of thin plotting, of costumes changes subbing for character development, or of retro har-har jokes will dissuade true believers looking for a bedazzled good time. Except perhaps this: Why not go see Real Cher who, at 72, looks and sounds at least as much like her younger self as Block does?...the magnetic Block who, it is worth noting, got her break portraying Liza Minnelli inThe Boy From Oz)... At this moment The Cher Show feels less like storytelling than like the pop goddess staging her therapy sessions. Other times it seems like her Wikipedia page set to music. What it rarely achieves is becoming a fully realized evening of theater. But it is, in the tradition of the American jukebox musical, a fair simulation. B”  Allison Adato

The Daily Beast 

“And yet, and yet. Cher is one of the producers of this show, and so what we see on stage of her has been approved by her. This is a personal, curated musical. The dish, such as it is, is strictly portioned. The storylines and phoenix-from-ashes arcs are subject-approved. So, what would Cher like us to know about her life? This the musical, very truthfully, never resolves...relationships with Gregg Allman (Matthew Hydzik) and Rob Camilletti (Michael Campayno) are also surfed through with TV-mini series speed….As this critic left the show, two people, uninvited, shared their views on the show. One older woman, with a friend, said, “I love Cher. I’ve grown up with Cher. That isn’t Cher.” I asked her why. “It was like watching a drag act,” she said. “And Cher is still alive. That wasn’t… Cher.” And then outside, a man said he had loved every minute, that is was a worthwhile and fun night out. It was all he had hoped it would be. Eyes lit up, he said he had loved the music, the spectacle, the camp, the jokes. Both were Cher fans, and both summed up my own split feelings about The Cher Show. It’s an enjoyable circus of spectacle and music and familiarity; and it’s also not the same as having the star itself in a big room entertaining everyone. In fact, the most lacking thing is the real story about how, after all the downturns and fallow periods, she did come back to fame. The actual mechanics of those career-re-energizing moments go unexplained” Tim Teeman

Rolling Stone

The link includes a video of Cher with cast.

“The tao of Cher runneth over...After having seen so many jukebox musicals over the years, I’ve inoculated myself to the knee-jerk criticisms that came easily with so many poor attempts to translate an iconic artist’s songbook and circuitous career to the stage. Up until this point, however, I’ve never witnessed such impressive impersonations — which is meant as a compliment. Because if the very talented women cast as Cher didn’t give us that, then there would be moms and millennials and a mob of gay men with pitchforks outside the theater calling for producers’ heads. But I’m still left wondering what The Cher Show is exactly. At times it feels like glitzy Las Vegas revue that, if you were to squint, could easily be the best drag show of all time — although it lacks any actual drag queens. And then, in the second act, it eventually veers into something resembling a clip reel as Cher’s Oscar looks are quickly ticked off and other poor decisions (yes, even the informercials) are exposed until it explodes into a joyous cacophony of sentimental, shameless nothingness. Maybe the production is just a vehicle intended to fulfill a desire to tour forever and to assure us Cher shall never disappear from our lives. Ultimately, I don’t hate The Cher Show since, despite all of the mess, it leaves you wanting to Believe!” Jerry Portwood

The Hollywood Reporter

The link includes a video montage.

“The indestructible Cher managed to escape with her dignity intact earlier this year from the Greek Island shipwreck that was Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, thanks largely to her powerful shield of self-irony. That armor, along with her talent and charisma, has cocooned the decades-defying supernova throughout her epic career, even helping her make the embarrassing sketch writing on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, back in the early '70s, pass for funny. Her characteristic sleepy-eyed drollery is all over The Cher Show...The Cher Show also has the distinct advantage of the boss being behind the beaded curtain as a producer, lending a personal investment that carries it through the rough patches and choppy storytelling of Rick Elice's uneven book. ...Is the show good? Certainly not in the sense of traditional musical-theater craft. Would I see it again? Duh, already planning on it. ...The baby gay millennial sitting a couple seats down from me could not stop fist-pumping, whooping and "yas kween"-ing through the entire performance. That was annoying for a minute but eventually became part of the experience. For all its flaws and unapologetic excesses, I had a blast at The Cher Show, as will any fan.” David Rooney

The Guardian

“Together they describe the evolution of Cherilyn Sarkisian from southern California ugly duckling to the black swan entertainment queen. This is a straightforward story of female empowerment, though, as crafted by an all-male creative team, it sometimes feels more like a compilation of girl-power pep talks than an individual woman’s singular journey.Mashing song and story together is the great problem of the genre. The Cher Show doesn’t solve it. Rick Elice’s book relies heavily on exposition, with Block often stepping out to narrate key moments or to summon her other selves for a consultation...It’s so garish and delirious and literally show-stopping, that it highlights the lack of imagination elsewhere and the show’s need to gloss over – sequin over, brilliantine over – anything too uncomfortable or hard.”

Towerload

“It’s a paradox of the biomusical that reducing an iconic life story into a tidy two acts necessarily flattens its subject. When that subject is a living producer of the show, experiencing a career renaissance at age 72, you can count on seeing the version of that story she would like you to consider her legacy….It’s a testament to the knockout talents assuming the lead role that the lavish designs don’t swallow them whole.It’s a testament to the knockout talents assuming the lead role that the lavish designs don’t swallow them whole...The Cher Show doesn’t venture too far outside the box — doing so runs counter to the project of self-mythologizing inherent to the form. By this point, celebrity narratives are familiar enough in their common course that we recognize the shorthand — from big break and the spotlight’s harsh glare to fall and final redemption. It’s all here, insofar as the musical’s subject wants to reveal more than what we already know, or may have guessed. As for a deeper understanding of the artist, it’s always been right there in the music.”  Naveen Kumar

(Wha???? Cher’s music is rarely biographical.)

Vulture 

This is the best written of the negative reviews so I’ve included a lot of it.

“Is it possible to be brainwashed by sequins? I was so addled by the finale of The Cher Show that I began to imagine a tiny, spandex-and-spangle-clad devil on my shoulder, poking me behind the ear with a diamond-studded pitchfork and murmuring, “Shhh … You’re having a good time. Just … believe.” Nice try, but not today, sparkly Satan. The Cher Show is not good. It’s extravagantly, almost triumphantly not good. It’s such a garish, obvious pastiche, such an unabashedly soulless explosion of wigs and trite memoir wisdom, that somewhere in the midst of its overinflated two and a half hours — probably during one of its dips into stodgy, life-lesson-y sentiment between showstoppers — you start to wonder: Is this gusher of shamelessness the only thing that could have happened here? Is the show so ludicrous that it’s somehow transcended itself? Is it a victory for camp? It’s Cher, after all. As one of her onstage iterations says to her second husband, the strung-out folk rocker Gregg Allman (or, as this millennial kept thinking of him, Legolas with sideburns), when he tells her she “doesn’t understand excess”: “Have you seen my costumes?” Yes, yes we have. And if the screams in the audience every time another Bob Mackie getup takes the stage are any measure, the clothes are 90 percent of what we came for. They’re like King Kong’s big monkey. Is it wrong — or at best, useless — to critique a fashion show with musical numbers as if it’s actually a play?...Is this three-body-diva thing like, a thing now? When are we getting the Madonna musical, complete with Blonde Ambition Madonna, Kabbalah Madonna, and Rebel Heart Madonna? But The Cher Show feels awkwardly stuck between blowout jukebox concert — a triple-your-pleasure cover act for one of the superstar’s endless farewell tours — and schmaltzy bio-play. And there’s way too much of the latter.  but the moments have a sappy, oddly insular effect, like watching someone else’s life-coaching session. That’s the thing about “Behind the Music” stories: It’s not actually as fun as we think, and it’s hardly ever revelatory, to have pop icons humanized. ..The funny thing is, I have no argument with the legend status of actual Cher. Her creative gambles, non-stop reinventions, and reigning queen status in a testosterone-soaked industry are incredible feats and speak of a human being with more than everyday ambition and endurance. ..It’s the show’s blithely formulaic nature that drags things down. Elice’s book is a string of easy punchlines and hoky teaching moments ...Jason Moore’s direction is blandly splashy, the paint-by-numbers approach to this kind of material. The ensemble throws themselves gamely into Christopher Gattelli’s choreography, though Gattelli’s work only comes to life intermittently, ...In the time I’ve been writing this, I’ve gotten more real enjoyment out of watching old Cher videos as research than I did in the theater. And I think I’d probably get a kick out of seeing her in concert, where I have a feeling the ceaseless, high-gear pop-splosion, unburdened by autobiographical platitudes or pretensions toward plot and character, would somehow feel more honest. I’m okay with the real thing, and even with nostalgia in YouTube-size bites — but not as the only fuel in the tank when you’re trying to do a play….you’ve also got to try to make her into, well, theater. And that requires more than costumes, even costumes by Bob Mackie. It requires more than several good Cher impressions (Diamond, Wicks, and Block are all doing their best Janice-from-the-Electric-Mayhem voices, and Block especially sounds great belting out the brassy, vibrato-heavy hits). It requires more than wigs and wings and sailors and celebrities and tango-ing gypsies and hoedown-ing cowboys. The problem isn’t that it’s all too much. It’s that, when all the glitter’s swept up, it’s not nearly enough.” Sara Holdren

The Fordham Observer

Another good one.

“Cher could never be contained in a Broadway musical. Let’s start there. If the makers of “The Cher Show,” among whom the real Cher is a producer, thought the pure divadom of its subject, dressed in all the gloriously gay, sequined and campy stylings of our favorite dark lady, could save the bio-musical from itself, they were holdin’ out for love.

[The show is]...disappointingly guarded and directionless attempt to squeeze Cher’s many lives into a bordered, formulaic dramatization of her career. Frantic in its attempt to distill five decades of stardom into three hours, “The Cher Show” careens from spotlight to spotlight, shag rug to shag rug, and speeds from striped bell bottoms to autotune, London to New York, Broadway to Hollywood, illegibly.

By the way, had the musical followed its inclination to focus on Sonny and Cher, choosing that narrative rather than some biopic haze, the musical may have saved itself from the depths of jukebox hell. [The Fanny Brice]

But I refuse to be a total cynic. We finally have a star-studded Broadway musical about Cher, and there are things to celebrate…

Stephanie J. Block, who is, as far as I’m now concerned, a Broadway treasure we must protect at all costs. Not one bit buried by her throaty evocation, that characteristic voice which Block pulls off with as little caricature as possible, she is ever a match for the dominating personality of Cherilyn Sarkisian, portraying the diva (or star, as her character name suggests) with grace, reverence, and the best voice you can hear on Broadway right now. Only a drag queen could do it better.  

...Micaela Diamond as Babe is an enthralling new actress,

...Bob Mackie, albeit a fashion show set to music, which doesn’t really equate to theater.

...The Cher Show” succeeds in inoculating its audience with a wistfulness for the sounds and fashions of this diva should be no gold star. Surely that’s the bare minimum.

But there’s something to be said for the first seconds of “I’ve Got You Babe,” Jarrod Spector’s Sonny a remarkably uncanny evocation of the iconic voice that’d be mostly hilarious if not braced by an incredible tenor. There’s something to be said for that loving feeling, returned to an audience however caked in glitter. Maybe it’s shmaltz and maybe I’m a fool, and it’s certainly not enough to make “The Cher Show” good theater. But it’s fine enough as the first chords of an iconic song ring in, a small comfort to be momentarily in the presence of what makes Cher great: her music, not some hopelessly humanizing Broadway creation.” Michael Appler

You can read more reviews here: 
http://www.playbill.com/article/read-reviews-for-the-cher-show-on-broadway

The Cast

There have also been stories about the cast, who everyone claims is the right stuff:

About the Three Chers: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/14/theater/the-cher-show-broadway-stephanie-j-block.html  

Below is an article about the actress playing young Cher and the actor playing Sonny, both from Philadelphia. Jarrod Spector is called the King of the Jukebox Musical, as he played Barry Mann in Beautiful and Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys. This show was Micaela Dimond’s first part and she wasn’t even born until a year after Believe was a hit!

http://www.philly.com/arts/cher-show-broadway-micaela-diamond-margate-germantown-academy-jarrod-spector-20190103.html

Their review: “The show is a lot of loud, bright, over-the-top craziness, with tree-top performances.”

That's a lot to process. More to come...


Mama Mia 2: Here We Go Again


Mm2I know. I know. The movie is like a half a year old already and BluRay and DVD are already out with awesome features, very Cher-flattering stuff on the extra features, not to be missed (more on that later)! 

But literally, this is where I left off blogging last year during all the drama that was last year. So we have to start here so I can catch up. But I have to admit, complaining or genuflecting for Mama Mia last season just felt wrong, even when I tried to do it. While we were going through the U.S. midterms, the constant shootings and hate crimes, kids dying at the border, it just felt extremely not-kosher to be discussing whether or not the movie Mama Mia 2 was high art or cotton candy.

Similarly, I’ve been reading a lot about lost American languages, mostly American Indian languages, especially the work of writers like Mohave poet Natalie Diaz, and it came up that Yiddish was another dying language. I’m not Jewish but I love Yiddish so I decided to start reading more about the language. But then the Synagogue shooting happened and it didn’t feel right to be interloping into a language that wasn’t mine and I felt this way for a few months. 

Pop culture can be helpful in dark times but it can also be a distraction. And I don’t claim to know where the borderline is there but...

Could I stop thinking and writing about poetry and Cher. I think I would go crazy maybe. (Too late!) Besides, 2018 was the wrong year to give up Cher scholarship. It was the busiest Cher year since 1987 or 1975 before that or 1965 before that. This was finally the year everyone realized the cultural work that Cher product does, what Cherness is. And we’re all beginning to realize how it might work on some level, thanks to the failures (and successes) of the Broadway show ironically. We’re all beginning to figure out how the Cher effect works outside of the mediums and products they spin out on. Bigger than the music and the movies and the merch. Bigger than the costumes. 

But I’ll get more into that in the next few weeks when we start to talk about Cher essays and the Broadway show.

Today I just want to catch up on that little movie that was Mama Mia 2, what interviews came out around it, what critics said and what I thought about it.

General Interviews

So Cher did a lot of press for the movie and some general interviews about all things Cher (which included discussions around the new album, the Broadway show, and her latest “I swear this is my last” tour.

She appeared on Ellen. Watch this funny clip they did at the salon. You can also find more show excerpts on Youtube.

The Today Show appearances

https://www.today.com/video/cher-opens-up-about-career-and-new-abba-album-1314064451541?v=raila& Cher makes a comment about having a favorite shirt for 40 years and of course everyone wanted to know, what shirt is that? People Magazine found out: https://people.com/style/cher-wears-same-tshirt-for-30-years/

https://www.today.com/video/-it-shows-women-being-in-control-of-their-life-cher-talks-mamma-mia-here-we-go-again-1278419523965

The New Zealand Herald: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/entertainment/news/article.cfm?c_id=1501119&objectid=12088673

With Kathie Lee Gifford: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-KMgR39Eck&feature=youtu.be

With Lorrraine: https://youtu.be/ZSEvcvcImls

Interviews even happened about Cher interviews: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8aEhHAEvyU

An interesting panel discussion with the Mama Mia 2 cast and creators: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfEHEiIKPQM&feature=youtu.be 

A story about her wig in the movie: https://www.dailystar.co.uk/showbiz/719705/cher-mamma-mia-hair-wig-film-musical-abba-fernando-super-trooper

Why We Love Cher

The Press Junket

Cher’s part of the press junket involved her in an interview-duet of sorts with Andy Garcia. I didn't like him at all at first but he grew on me. The first few interviews I watched, he seemed bored and irritated with all the gay men interviewing and genuflecting for Cher. When one obviously Cher-happy interviewer asked him if he had a Cher impression in him, he expressed mild alarm and Cher defended him by calling him a serious actor.

Which reminds us of Cher's famous moment blowing about the definitions of the conflation of words serious and actor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ptvz4DGrK4  

So ironic, that. And then the fact that maybe he is a serious sort o factor, except that he just made Mama Mia 2.

But things got better and who knows what the interviewing sequence was. Maybe he was just getting irritable before his lunch break. Anyway, you can imagine them sitting there all day while tens of tens of interviewers floated by with hundreds of questions. Here are some of the clips:

Alternatively, look how Meryl Streep behaves during at the premiere, much more befitting the tone of the movie: https://dorothysurrenders.blogspot.com/2018/07/my-my-how-can-i-resist-you.html

Which brings us to...

The Red Carpet Premiere


Cher by the Cast Actresses

“She’s the funniest, most honest person I’ve ever met,” Seyfried said of her legendary co-star. “I was so nervous; I was so intimidated that the first day I met her, I didn’t want to be in her way.”

'She was amazing, there was a crackle of anticipation on the set when she was coming in.” Piers Brosnan

Behind the Scenes

How Andy Garcia was hand picked: http://www.vulture.com/2018/07/why-mamma-mia-here-we-go-again-cast-cher-as-meryls-mother.html

You can get these on the DVD/BluRay too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6sJ3M2H2Xo&feature=youtu.be

The Reviews and Box Office

Rotten Tomatoes compilation of reviews: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/mamma_mia_here_we_go_again/

Box Office overview (#2 in opening week!):

The reviews were almost a whiplash-inducing gamut in their range from good to bad...

Dazed Digital, the best review, mostly about Cher:

“Like God, or time, Cher is a concept so ineffable and expansive she cannot be fully encapsulated by the imperfect semiotics of human language. If Madonna and Lady Gaga and Kylie and Cyndi Lauper were playing football, Cher would be the stadium they played on, and the sun that shone down on them. Explaining his decision to cast Cher, 72, as the mother of Meryl Streep, 69, in Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, despite a mere three-year age gap between the two actresses, writer-director Ol Packer explained simply that “Cher exists outside of time”. A fascinating hypothesis. Perhaps she finally found a way to turn it back...You’ll notice I referred to Cher as an ‘actress’. This is because there are two great injustices of our times: firstly, the machinations of late capitalism, which allows the labour of the weak to be exploited by a narrowing group of a global super rich elite, and secondly, the cultural tendency to acknowledge Cher merely as a ‘singer’ despite the fact she has appeared in several critically acclaimed film roles.” Shon Faye

The New Yorker

“...for all its faults, has a musty charm and even, for reasons that involve Meryl Streep, a hint of heartbreak. There’s also a secret weapon. Not the special effects, which include the worst fake moon in modern cinema, or Colin Firth’s dancing, but the appearance—one might call it the annunciation—of Cher, who steps from a helicopter and takes control of the film. In the role of Sophie’s grandmother, and in a voice still throbbingly low and lusty, she belts out “Fernando.” For the first time in two installments of “Mamma Mia!” I plucked the cotton wool from my ears and found myself doing something quite extraordinary. I listened.” Anthony Lane

Chicago Reader

“Cher is the cherry on the sundae”

The Globe and Mail

“Yes, Meryl Streep has left the building and only appears in a cameo at the finale; her energy is much missed. Instead, we get Cher as Sophie’s supposed grandmother, and you have to at least admire the chutzpah – and laugh happily as the script finds an excuse for her to break into Fernando (the lady looks as though she’s mistaken a taxidermist for a plastic surgeon).” Kate Taylor

Ouch!

Alternate Ending

Airquotes“a deeply inorganic Cher cameo much too late in the movie for the marketing team to feel like they've done good work by pretending she's a major character - also, fuck the hell out of the sound team for mixing Cher so loud as to suck all the texture out of my favorite ABBA song, for no other reason than because she is Cher - and a Streep cameo so ill-motivated that it goes back around to being funny. All this being said, Here We Go Again is hardly the grueling misery that the first film was, and while I still don't think that watching people being this strenuously gleeful is "fun", the new film is trying much less hard than its predecessor to be a karaoke party. It's trying to be a musical, and while I don't think that's a particularly good one, that important shift in emphasis is very much appreciated.” Tim Brayton

Newport This Week

“The new addition to the cast is Cher, as Sophie’s long-lost grandmother, a Vegas showgirl. When she finally appears, it’s a movie star entrance on the order of Rita Hayworth in “Gilda.” But with her Lady Gaga platinum hair and her waxworks face, it’s a bit too campy and a distraction. Sure, it’s fun to hear Cher belt out “Fernando” opposite Andy Garcia, whose presence is purely a plot point for Cher’s character, but it’s wholly unnecessary.” Loren King

Film Inquiry

“On the other end of the spectrum, latest cast member Cher essentially plays herself, which effectively balances the sadness with a healthy amount of whimsy, particularly during her performance of Fernando.” Zoe Crombie

The LA Times

“And what of Cher? Let’s just say that like any diva worth her salt, she takes her time — first by arriving late into the proceedings and then by drawing out “Fernando,” her indisputable musical highlight, with a deliberation so breathtaking that even the accompanying fireworks seem to be erupting in slo-mo. In these moments, the honey-toned pop artifice of “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” becomes so overwhelming, you forget all qualms, all appeals to reason and logic — which is not to say your inconvenient questions won’t resurface later. What year is this taking place again? Couldn’t they have given Colin Firth a boyfriend? Why cast Cher as Meryl Streep’s mother? I understand that Cher, not unlike ABBA, transcends such petty concerns as time, space, age and physics, but that’s one mysterious parental back story I’d pay to see. Can we get a third movie out of this? Honey, I’m still free. Take a chance on three.” Justin Chang

NPR

Cher is in this thing, playing the late Donna's mother, and Sophie's grandmother. That's no secret; it's in the trailer. (As a thought experiment, try to imagine how much money they must have thrown at Cher to portray Donna's mom, given that she is just three years older than Streep. Go ahead, try — you will find the puny human brain insufficient to the task.) What may not be clear is that her screentime clocks in at just over sixteen minutes. Also, according to a passage of Streep dialogue in the 2008 film ("Somebody up there [point to the heavens] has got it in for me. I bet it's my mother.") Cher's appearance at the film's climax should logically inspire, among the other characters, a good deal more existential dread, if not screaming terror, than it does here. Look, it's no secret that Cher is a supernatural force. But if we accept that line of dialogue as Mamma Mia! canon, she may in truth be a Vampyr. The script is not forthcoming, but what other conclusion is possible? She does get a number to do, though, and it's really pretty great. So, you know: undead, schmundead — at the end of the day it's Cher singing in a exquisitely tailored pantsuit, so it's a win.” Glen Weldon

Glen Weldon also muses on when in the movie he should pee to not miss Cher.

Time Magazine

“Late in the movie, Cher–the only soupçon of tinsel you could add to this already extreme glitter-platform fest–appears as Sophie’s diva-times-10 grandmother Ruby. The finale of Here We Go Again is a go-for-broke version of “Super Trouper” in which every cast member gets to don a shiny silver space outfit and go wild. The young actors shimmy up to their older counterparts, the past meeting the present in one glam hootenanny. Everyone has a sense of humor about everything. Cher emerges, singing in that dusky, magic-hour voice and wearing a pair of bell-bottoms so extreme, she looks like a psychedelic upside-down lily. So yes, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is atrocious. And wonderful. It’s all the reasons you should never go to the movies. And all the reasons you should race to get a ticket.” Stephanie Zackarek

Roger Ebert.com

“And then Cher shows up. Now, it would seem impossible for this superstar goddess ever to be restrained. But as Sophie’s frequently absent grandmother, Cher seems weirdly reined in. Again, it’s the awkwardness of the choreography: She just sort of stands there, singing “Fernando,” before stiffly walking down a flight of stairs to greet the person to whom she’s singing. (As the hotel’s caretaker, Andy Garcia conveniently plays a character named Fernando, which is an amusing bit.) But if you’re down for watching A-list stars belt out insanely catchy, 40-year-old pop tunes in a shimmering setting, and you’re willing to throw yourself headlong into the idea of love’s transformative power, and you just need a mindless summer escape of your own, you might just thoroughly enjoy watching “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.” Don’t think, and pass the ouzo.” Christy Lemire

Slate

“And to the audience’s whoops of glee, there is the Velveeta-layered revolutionary anthem “Fernando,” delivered by Cher with a pleasantly tuneless assist from Andy Garcia as the smoking-hot hotel employee Señor Cienfuegos—with whom Cher’s character, the resolutely ungrandmotherly Ruby, apparently shared a sultry night many years ago. One disappointment of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again: In a musical as gay as the last gay train to Gayville—and one that takes a Shakespearean pleasure in pairing up all its characters by the final scene—there should be a romantic storyline for Colin Firth’s Harry, who came out to both himself and the world at the end of the first film. The most he gets is the suggestion of a missed connection between his younger self and a gruff security agent at the island port. Given the amount of cash queer audiences are likely to pony up to escape the summer heat in this pleasure-loving, sex-positive, Cher-starring Ramos gin fizz of a movie, it seems like the least the writer-director could have done to provide Harry with his own fair share of island lovin’.

Enjoying musicals is a necessary but not sufficient condition for appreciating the Mamma Mia! movies. You must also believe in the foolish yet empowering myth a good musical propagates: the notion that you, given a backup track and enough time to rehearse, might plausibly star in a musical yourself. Among my daughter’s and my favorite moments in the original Mamma Mia! is a line in the song “Super Trouper” that Donna, performing onstage in her full glitter-pantsuited glory, delivers directly to her daughter: “ ’Cause somewhere in the crowd, there’s you.” In this sequel’s reprise of that song, the line is delivered directly to us, the audience. It’s enough to send you out of the theater singing, imaginary feather boa held aloft, ready to grab a few friends and dive off the nearest pier.” Dana Stevens

Vogue Magazine

“I can’t tell you about the ending of Mamma Mia 2 without actually spoiling it, but I can tell you that we finally do see Cher, as Sophie’s grandma/Donna’s mom, and that she is decked out in silver with platinum hair like a tall chrome Dolly Parton, and that she sings, her beautiful moonlit face wholly unmoving except for her mouth. And that there is a subsequent scene that brought me to tears even as I thought to myself, This is so incredibly absurd. And that the film’s curtain call is one of the finest showstopping musical numbers and general feel-good fan pandering since goddamn Grease. If I sound passionate, it’s because I’m not used to feeling anything anymore. I await Mamma Mias 3 through 10.” Briget Reed

Leonard Maltin.com

“One by one, all the familiar characters from the first movie show up, uttering dialogue out of the Cliche Handbook and joining in song. But it doesn’t add up to much. The much-heralded arrival of Cher at the end is treated like the Second Coming, and the superstar gets to warble two songs, one with a surprise lover from her past, the other as a kind of curtain call for a film that doesn’t really have a finale.” Leonard Maltin

The Boston Herald

“In a snow white wig, Cher, the only genuine pop star in the cast, belts out “Fernando,” a number culminating in onscreen “woos,” applause and fireworks. In addition to being a musical with many of the same songs as the original film, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” features a cast that ,for the most part, is made up of actors not known for their singing and dancing skills. The result is kind of like 114 minutes of plodding footwork and the aforementioned karaoke without the cocktails, although you will need a drink afterward.” James Viniere

Rolling Stone Magazine

Not even the mighty Cher can keep this jukebox-musical from from feeling like an S.O.S.And finally it comes, in the ab-fab person of Cher, basically playing herself in the role of Ruby, Donna’s livewire mom. The Dancing Queen enters the movie as if on a magic carpet, wearing a platinum wig and attitude for days, aghast about becoming a great-grandmother. “I’m not putting that part in the bio,” says Ruby, and Cher...brings out every ounce of sass in the line. With the singer/icon on screen, the audience enters kitsch nirvana. She imbues the essence of Cher into “Fernando,” making the Abba song soar and flirting outrageously in a duet with a moonstruck Andy Garcia, who plays Rudy’s great love from the past. Naturally, his name is Fernando. The last part of the movie, which brings the whole cast together on “Super Trouper,” is almost worth the price of admission. Millions will happily get drunk on the film’s infectious high spirits. For the rest of us, who can’t get with the program, Here We Go Again will go down as more of a threat than a promise.” Peter Travers

And this funny piece by Daily Mail that asks, "isn't Cher's character supposed to be dead?

One major inconsistency pointed out by fans on Twitter was that one of the film's integral characters appeared to have returned from the dead. Cher makes a cameo appearance in the sequel playing Sophie's grandmother Ruby. However, viewers took to social media to point out that she, Donna's mother, was listed as dead in the first film.”

 

My review from seeing the movie one measly time, (I feel like Charlie from the Chocolate Factory buying only one candy bar), and after never finding the time to see Mama Mia 1 is that I enjoyed parts of the movie without fully enjoying the whole. I did appreciate the visual transitions between the scenes and the dance numbers were more more fun and inclusive than those found in Burlesque. Also, the music felt more organic to the story and itself than the soundtrack of Burlesque. Let’s face it, it was a better musical.

However, some things took me out of the fantasy. It seemed like too much of a nod to Cher when Christine Buranski’s character said “have him washed and brought to my tent.” This alludes to the famous rumor that Cher once said this very thing upon first seeing boyfriend Robert Camiletti. The quote has been attributed to Cher whether it happened or not. And including it in the movie felt like Cher-pandering and something possibly stolen from a rehearsal of the new Broadway show. It was completely out of place and took us away from the idea of Cher playing another character beyond herself.

I found the flashbacks completely confusing (and that’s saying something because the flashbacks in Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean actually made sense to me). This might be cranky old lady of me but the young actresses looked so similar I needed some persistent date labeling to stay on track.

In some numbers, the dances and blocking seemed stiff and over-architected. Actors over-acted like someone was behind the camera yelling “Smile big, Donna!!” and therefore the hyper, fun-loving story was performed to an annoying pitch.

Image three young, sexy men...without any charisma. It wasn’t their fault. Charisma just wasn’t written into it. We got generic boys who became generic men. Only slight efforts were made to differentiate them. And yes, on some level maybe this is karmic payback for all the generic female leads strung as boy toys in a plethora of Hollywood films, but two wrongs have never made a right.

Right at the moment when “Knowing Me Knowing You” was played, Mr. Cher Scholar leaned over and gave me an Alan Partridge impression. So that was fun.

But we never did learn or understand why Donna was living at the abandoned house in the first place, who owed it, and who owned that horse. Explanations came around later but they felt very unsatisfying and underwritten.

Jessica Keenan Wynn performed a miraculous impersonation of Christine Buranksi and I would have bet my shirt that the lead actress, Amanda Seyfried, was long lost kin to Veronica Cartwright.

ChertapCher’s main scene was brief and stoic. If you remember the study I did of Cher tapping in movies from Cher Zine 1, you’d have recognized some new Cher tapping with Cher and her glass of booze. Cher also tears up in one small shot (when Meryl is singing) giving us Cher tears in almost 100% of Cher movies.

Someone in the movie describes the voice of Cher’s character as being "sweet like sugar cane." That didn’t seem right. Sugar cane seems more like the voice of Snow White: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45r2t1pGGyQ

Cher’s a party crasher but she didn’t seem to be in any of the wide shots of the party.

Cher also calls her granddaughter Soph, short for Sophie, employing the Cher tendency to nickname everyone, another Cherism that took me out of the story. Cher also calls Soph pitchy, reminding us of her guest appearance on The Voice. She also does her Cher walk. I'll be the first to admit, this a very cool walk, but it's still more Cher than something else.

Cumulatively, this makes you wonder whether this is just Cher onscreen or a character in a fictional story? Because it can’t be both. Either Cher is not "in character" or there wasn’t any character for Cher to be in.

And I’m not arguing that the character of Cher herself makes a movie necessarily bad, but there have been so many (Good Times, Stuck on You, Sonny might say Chastity, arguably Burlesque, those two Robert Altman bit parts) that those appearances might actually be staring to overshadow Cher's actual character work. And that would suck.

So the movie was too derivative of Cher, stiff and the set was distractingly pretty. I wanted to vacation there but without all these singing, smiling people. The next time I watch the movie, it will most likely be for travel planning and interior decorating ideas. The set was literally a scene-stealer.

SupertrouperI did laugh out loud during the appearance of "the most interesting man in the world" as brother of Fernando. But then I felt cheap afterwards. But then I watched it again on the DVD extras and laughed again.

But I loved listening to Cher sign Fernando and Super Trooper. Those were highlights for sure.


Mixed Bag of Honors and Accomplishments


Moony2First of all Cher's Believe album will be out on vinyl in December.  

In Music

A few weeks ago Cher's album Dancing Queen made its debut on the Billboard album chart at #3. This felt disappointing as Cher and the fans were aiming for #2. Although the album did hit #1 in the list for Top Album Sales. And the song "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" reached #5 on the Dance Club Play chart. And the Gimme remixes were recently released

So it felt a bit short at the time but my Billboard guru friend tells me I was off my meds to think this way: Sos

"For me, I am super impressed with her position on the chart. The year is three-quarters done, so for her to have the largest week of sales for an album in 2018 by a female pop artist is a major achievement.  It means she sold more albums in her debut week than 20-something Ariana Grande, who is the hottest female pop star in the U.S. currently, when she released Sweetener a few months ago. It means that the only female in any genre to post a larger one week tally this year is Cardi B. Were this released four years ago, before they started incorporating streaming into chart calculations, she would have debuted at #1 on the Top 200 chart, rather than #3 (and #1 on the sales chart).  The last female pop artist to exceed this level of sales in a single week was none other than 20-something Taylor Swift who remains the biggest U.S. female artist of the last ten years.  Not shabby company to keep. The fact that it is a sales sum that has only been surpassed by one other pop artist this year (Justin Timberlake) is truly remarkable. 

Mary, please think of it this way--over 50,000 albums across genres are released in the U.S. each year and our 72-year-old beloved can in 2018 sell more in a single week than literally any other pop artist on Earth except one, and more than any other female artist on Earth except one.  That is stupendous."

So that perspective was great. But then in week two the album feel from #3 to #43. 

In Movies

Anyway, there was another Billboard list that made me feel better again: Billboards list of 100 top musician performances in movies. Cher ranks #1. J. Lynch has this to say:

Cher’s Oscar-winning turn in the 1987 romcom Moonstruck remains the standard by which you mentally check all others. Cher brings that mixture of reluctance and romantic recklessness to the screen with a self-effacing realism and millisecond-sharp comedic timing. Few performances are this irresistible, hysterical and believably low-key -- and the fact that it came from one of the 20th century’s biggest pop stars leaves us unable to snap out of loving Cher in her deservedly Oscar-winning performance more than 30 years later."

The Kennedy Honor

And then there's the incredible Kennedy Honor. Maybe not in and of itself but for the fact that fans and Cher-watchers have been lobbying so long for Cher's simple induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. To be beset with yet a larger honor was fully unexpected. And a bit disorienting quite frankly. But what a big deal. As my friend Christopher described it, “the government's highest form of recognition for artists...its official intention is to identify and honor artists for their lifetime contribution to the culture of the United States. That is no small potatoes.”

Especially since nobody's been noticing Cher's lifetime contribution to the culture of the United States. 

The awards will be televised on December 26 on CBS at 8 p.m. Eastern.

Some articles about the honor:

Here is the 2016 batch with some unsmiling Eagles (I take that back, 2/3 unsmiling Eagles), James Taylor, Martha Argerich, Mavis Staples, and the incomparable Al Pacino. 

Last-year


Cher Conquers Music Again

Cherlove_dancingqueen_002Before we get into the new album, it should be mentioned Cher’s placement on Billboards Top Female Artists of All Time list. 

My Billboard sensei, Christopher, sent me this explication of the list’s meaning:

In celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Hot 100, Billboard posted the list of the Top 60 Female Artists of all time on the Hot 100.  You will be glad to see Cher ensconced all the way up at #16, (and right beside P!nk, which I thought was a nice, appropriate coincidence). It's for real; no opinions factored in.  The ranking was calculated based on how many weeks each hit spent on the chart and at which positions.  It's a cumulative inverse point system. So, if you have a song at #23 on the chart, it is awarded 77 points for that week.  If the following week it climbs to #19, for that week it earns an additional 81 points, and so on and so on. This system thereby rewards both longevity and ascension.  It is the same system they use when determining the year-end charts.

The Dancing Queen Album

So this all happened really fast. Mid-year, we found out Cher was recording a new album of ABBA songs and by September, here it was. 

Full disclosure: everyone has their own ideas about music they like. Methods are either cold and mathematical (example above) or infinitely subjective. There seems to be no in between. Even Cher fans have different inclinations. My personal favorite albums are: With Love (1967), Backstage (1968), All I Ever Need is You (1971 and for highly sentimental reasons), Stars (1975), Take Me Home (1979), It’s a Man’s World (1996), Believe (1999) and Living Proof (2001). I could go into my predilections for melody or unity but blah-blah-blah, who cares.

Cher’s last album, Closer to the Truth, was good but not great. It charted high (on the backs of concert ticket sales) and a few songs played on adult contemporary radio ("I Hope You Find It") but there was not a breakout hit. I'm liking this album much better. But I'm finding it hard to say why. Could it be outside cultural influences are working on me, (although don't we all feel like we loved Stars in a vacuum?). For sure, the advanced interest in this album was very high. Even Billboard predicts another high-chart debut, again possibly on the backs of merch and concert tickets sales.

On the other hand, you can’t really miss recording these ABBA songs. Are some arrangements are more original than others? Sure. Are some critics going to accuse Cher of being an opportunist,? Yes. But it would seem hard to sing ABBA songs (as Cher herself has admitted), so here is where the effort sits in my mind: in the stretch to do it. Cher could have picked easier opportunism.

What’s interesting to me, reading all the reviews, is how trends are showing up around who likes which songs. Dance clubs are already springing to the beats of “Gimme Gimme Gimme,” other fans are gravitating to Cher's more original take on “Chiquitta. ” I also love the novelty of hearing Cher sing “The Winner Takes it All.” Not everybody does. Boys seem to like the “SOS” track. “One of Us” consistently stands out as a critical favorite. Trends like this show this album has gems on it. I don’t remember any similar consensus around “Closer to the Truth.”

And the critical reviews are mostly favorable, which is an odd thing to experience with a Cher album. I tend to want to deconstruct those things. Why is it happening? Is this really Cher’s best album of all time? You’d think so by the reviews. I break it down to three aspects of the current Cher phenomenon: (1) old white reviewers are all retired or dead and women and gay men are in positions of reviewing albums, (2) Cher has been canonized lately (a sub-phenomenon we can't get into right now), (3) the concept of this album is so juicy, it’s immediately lovable, (4) the album has one producer for the most part and feels very unified, and (5) during these political times, we crave "the happy, happy."

But what do I know? I do know this: Believe was a very good album with a magical-single attached to it and Entertainment Weekly still dissed it. Music critics were not inclined to like Cher circa 1999. And that means everything because reviews are perceptions always based on the trends of a larger culture or sub-culture (which makes decoding "good" all but impossible). Culture is arbitrary, capriciously suggestible and apropos of nothing true. I can both hide behind that convenient fact, as a much maligned Cher fan, but it also makes my many rationalizations about it meaningless. Ah, what fun.

So the good reviews feel amazing, no doubt. But they’re so packed with so much unrelated, Cher love going on right now, it’s hard to know how good the new album really is. Do I overthink it? Yes, but that’s what cultural study is. You can make the claim that these songs are just cotton candy to give us a respite of happiness, (a point made in many Mama Mia 2 reviews)but I hate to think that way. It short-shrifts the album and our human capacity to deal with bad political times. 

I love that Cher dedicated the album to her mom. I love that she thanked her bffs and her long-time assistant. And I dearly love “Chiquita.”

I have three ABBA greatest hits collections: one double LP, one cassette tape, one compact disc) and I still missed all the visual ABBA references in the “SOS” video and on the album cover. I had to read about video references in articles about the video and Mr. Cher Scholar pointed out the album cover similarity as we looked at a CD prominently displayed at Target last week.  

The album is predicted to debut at #2 on Billboard's album chart. “Gimme Gimme Gimme” is now at #8 on the dance chart. “Fernando” (the Mama Mia 2 version with Andy Garcia) made it to #22 on the Adult Contemporary chart.

More Chart News:

As I said, the announcement of this album was big news, the track listing was big news, the single releases were news:

Cher-cover-dqMore on this later, but Cher has also done general interviews for The Today Show, The New York Times and the L.A. TimesAll the songs have attracted a bee swarm of re-mixes. Search album song titles on YouTube and you'll find some, including a fabulous Madonna mashup with "Gimme Gimme Gimmie."

Gimmie News:

The mashup guy even got his own interview. One funny quote about the mashup from a fan, “This mashup has cured my diseases, watered my crop and saved my soul. This mashup has turned me 200% gay.”

And then the “SOS” video made news:

Here's the original ABBA video to compare to the Cher version. A good scholarship project would be to do screen-capture comparisons. No time for that right now but someday. Cher also performed the song on Ellen. And Cher is performing "Waterloo," "SOS" and "Fernando" in her latest New Zealand and Australia shows.

The following are excerpts from the reviews so far.

Continue reading "Cher Conquers Music Again" »


Sometimes When I'm Down and All Alone

Cher-1There’s so much to catch up on. It’s very daunting, all the words we need to think up for this year's Cherness. And I’m so, so very tired.

This is a white-hot Cher year for sure. And so much is worthy of scholarship: reviews, commentaries (all more positive than we’ve ever seen them: a good Rolling Stone review? A good Entertainment Weekly review? What alternate universe are we living in?). So much amazing stuff: personal essays about Cher that you find here and there on the internet, canonization in Mama Mia 2 (with Cher-tapping no less), a plethora of personal appearances and interviews, Broadway, Vegas, a new tour, a new album. It’ll probably takes us many years to process it all, like dutiful curators in the museums of Cher.

So wow. My year was just...wow. I’ve never experienced a year quite like it. Both awful and awe-ful in so many ways. Heartbreaking, a lot of it. I’m sitting in a new proverbial chair surrounded by an entirely different world than I started with back in January. Everything has suffered through the metamorphosis: activism (although I created three new voting ads this month for ArtBrawl), poetry (although I published my second book at the end of August), Cher blogging (although I’ve been hanging in there with about 75% of the product and appearances). The job changes have been daunting alone but there were also family illnesses, three family trips (one amazing Arizona trip tracing family history) and we were forced to move. I say 'forced' but really we just realized our rental situation was untenable and it was time to stop living like transient drifters. Brave. New. World. Moving was not easy and the pressures all year happening at the same time made me literally crazy (not that far to go, quite frankly). To date, I’m slightly more damaged than I was. I’m not living in the same house. I’m not working the same job. My friends have changed. I’ve had to put my coping mechanisms to the test and sometimes I failed to live up to them. But I’m here. And I am grateful to friends, my parents, and Mr. Cher Scholar for continued support during the mess of it.

Every time in “Chiqutita” when Cher sings “your life’s a broken feather,” I start to tear up. Indeed, this year was a broken feather. And I’ve loved that song since I was a tween, but never could parse what that phrase way saying: “your loves a broken tether?” I had no idea. “Your love’s a blown out candle”...also big news to me. But these things are so lovely to discover….finally.

Anyway, we need to get going and digesting all of this good media and “try once more like we did before” to blog about Cher stuff.


What Now My Love

WhatnowThis is my go-to Cher song when I’m feeling sadsack. I was supremely bored by the song when I was a kid, but experience has given me sympathy for this dirge to dependency.

While I was researching this diatribe on Cher's "Carousel Man," I came across the original French version of the song “What Now My Love,” which was recorded as “Et Maintenant” by Gilbert Bécaud in 1961. I really like that version. Maybe better. 

Here are the French lyrics, followed by the more literal English translation.

 

Et Maintenant

Et maintenant que vais-je faire
e tout ce temps que sera ma vie
De tous ces gens qui m'indiffèrent
Maintenant que tu es partie
Toutes ces nuits, pourquoi pour qui
Et ce matin qui revient pour rien
Ce c oeur qui bat, pour qui, pourquoi
Qui bat trop fort, trop fort

Et maintenant que vais-je faire
Vers quel néant glissera ma vie
Tu m'as laissé la terre entière
Mais la terre sans toi c'est petit
Vous, mes amis, soyez gentils
Vous savez bien que l'on n'y peut rien
Même Paris crève d'ennui
Toutes ses rues me tuent

Gilbert-becaud-et-maintenantEt maintenant que vais-je faire
Je vais en rire pour ne plus pleurer
Je vais brûler des nuits entières
Au matin je te haïrai
Et puis un soir dans mon miroir
Je verrai bien la fin du chemin
Pas une fleur et pas de pleurs
Au moment de l'adieu
Je n'ai vraiment plus rien à faire
Je n'ai vraiment plus rien

What Now My Love

And now what am I going to do
All this time that will be my life
Of all those people who cared about me
Now that you're gone
All these nights, why for who
And this morning that comes back for nothing
This heart beats, for whom, why
Who beats too loud, too loud
And now what am I going to do
Toward which nil will slip my life
You left me the whole world
But the land without you is small
You, my friends, be kind
You know that nothing can be done
Even Paris is dying of boredom
All its streets kill me
And now what am I going to do
I'm going to laugh at not crying anymore
I will burn whole nights
In the morning I will hate you
And then one evening in my mirror
I'll see the end of the road
Not a flower and no crying
At the time of farewell
I really do not have anything to do
I really do not have anything

Songwriters: Gilbert Francois Leopold Becaud / Pierre Delanoe

The lyrics and title in the official English version were written by Carl Sigman. The recurring musical motif in the background is Ravel's "Bolero."

You can see this is a very different song in French and English. The English is more sad and depressed. The French more angry, almost vicious.

Sonny-and-cher-what-now-my-love-et-maintenant-atcoThe French version was a number one hit in 1961. Bécaud recorded the “What Now My Love” translation in 1962 but it was Shirley Bassey’s version that became a #5 hit in the U.K. It’s considered one of Sonny & Cher’s greatest hits, although they only reached #14 with in in the U.S. It’s been covered a lot more than I had previously assumed: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Et_maintenant

And currently the song is still popular on the French singing competition shows, the most arresting being this version by Dominique Magloire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoDl1duwUOE

And I also found this: Becaud singing the English with Nina Simone. Wait for it. Becaud he does the French first: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkKQb6izVGQ

As I'm looking for these, I'm getting YouTube ads for Mama Mia 2 and it's confusing me. What was I searching for again? Cher on YouTube: c'est un trou de lapin!

Sonny & Cher live performances of "What Now My Love"


Cher Summer 2018

JcMama Mia 2

The new release date I’m seeing for Mama Mia 2 is July 20 here in the U.S. I'm afraid I’m going to have to wing it because I doubt I’ll find time to watch Mama Mia, the first. She's started to promote the movie.

Entertainment Tongiht: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RSiR6Enovk

James Corden: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1I8IJ4PLlI - What charmers they are; this show caused a slew of media stories about Cher eating cow's tongue instead of saying something nice about Donald Trump. Note: Cher swallows. James doesn't.

Cher was also on Graham Norton. Here are some clips:

- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABG5GOoU_lQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gR9hI0lbWU 

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6mjfge (full show, but backwards)

Mama Mia 2 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MammaMiaMovie/

Cher’s version of Fernado was released and she sang the song live at Cinemacon. Article about it: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/cher-performs-mamma-mia-here-we-go-again-song-at-cinemacon-1105788

Cher Singing Fernando

Cher talks to Entertainment Tonight about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AK5QX2am-M

People Magazine: http://people.com/movies/new-mamma-mia-2-new-trailer-cher/

GnOn Graham Norton, Cher has confirmed she's working on a new album for the Australian tour. Rumors are it might be a full ABBA album.

Interviews from Australia

The Andrew Denton Australian interview was particularly good but it's hard to find online. How old fashioned of them. Good way to keep people from watching your good interviewing. See the trailer in any case: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StiKQPwTymY 

Another Australian piece: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-5720905/Cher-71-speaks-candidly-getting-older.html 

Cher Concerts:

Cher’s Vegas show continued to see news this spring and she scheduled dates for an Australian tour:

  1. Keyboardist D. Laurent Smith (Broadway World)
  2. Perth Show news
  3. Cher on iTunes Chart
  4. Tour Announcement

Cher in People Magazine

My friend Christopher sent me this happy Cher news. In his own words:

Mary--

You will be thrilled to know that in People's new "100 Reasons to Love America" issue, timed in celebration with the 4th of July, Cher finds herself ensconced on the list at #57 [reason:  "A living legend"]. It's worth pointing out that Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Madonna and Aretha Franklin did not make the cut; nor even Dolly Parton and Betty White (glaring omissions both)!  Then again, to keep things in perspective, #58 is "Lawn Flamingos" and other entries include "As Seen on TV Gadgets" [#31], Target's Opalhouse home decor line [#39] and Cardi B's catchphrase "Okuurt" ("'Okay' when spoken like a cold pigeon"--whatever the hell that means) [#88].  I, however, will choose to associate Cher's inclusion with the more luminous choices, such as 60 Minutes [#17], the National Spelling Bee [#41], the Liberty Bell [#43], the Rescue Dog movement [#71], Crayola Crayons [#79], the Parkland High School student activists [#82], and the best ice cream in the world [#100].   

Congratulations, Cher!!!

Christopher


Cher Sings Fernando (and Carousel Man)

Fern

So we found out Cher’s featured number in Mama Mia 2 is the ABBA song “Fernando.” You can buy it on Amazon. Go do that.

I’ve always loved ABBA. I may be one of the few people on the planet who doesn’t think “Dancing Queen” is overplayed. I actually found the song hard-to-come by on 80s radio. It was one of those songs I sang for years without having my own copy. My favorite songs change over the decades, but "Fernando" was definitely a childhood favorite so it’s a treat to hear Cher’s version.

It’s also always a thrill to hear Cher sing the place names of my home state. This probably suggests something disturbing about the degree of my celebrity obsession (that it can arise from the singing of a place name) but what can I say?

For those who don’t yet know, (you’d be surprised), New Mexico is a U.S. state and has been once since 1912. I was once getting electrolysis on my bikini area when I lived in Pennsylvania and the technician there, (who was in her 40s), asked me about my vacation and I said I was traveling to New Mexico. She exclaimed, "Oh, you’ll be by the beach!" I said, "Oh no, you’re thinking of the country Mexico" like maybe I hadn't enunciated properly. "I’m talking about the state between Arizona and Texas." She looked at me confused and asked, “Is there an Old Mexico?”

When I left LA, I tried to keep my bank in Los Angeles and I called them to see if they had any partnerships with a local New Mexico bank. They transferred me to International Accounts. Talk to New Mexicans and they all have stories like this.

In fact, when the Kardashians visited Santa Fe, the media were making fun over their lack of knowledge about U.S. states and where New Mexico was, my co-worker commented hilariously,  “get those bitches out of my country.”

Anyway, when Cher sings, “the frightful night we crossed the Rio Grande,” it’s lovely. LOVELY!

I was just as thrilled when Cher sang “one night in Santa Fe” in the middle of the song “Carousel Man.” CmI first learned that song when I was six or seven and like all of Cher's story songs, I loved it. I eventually grew up and started to worry that the song’s writer, John Durrill, himself didn’t know the difference between Mexico and New Mexico. I tried to rationalize that maybe the story in the song occurred before the state was ceded from Mexico in 1848 but that was ridiculous because our leading lady in the song wears blue jeans and the traveling show follow "county lines," which sort of indicates a rural U.S. environment. Here are the lyrics as Cher sings them (listen along):

I had a taste of bitter life
at sweet sixteen.
I was growing up too fast
if you know what I mean.
Met an older man
who taught me his own way to live.
And all I had to do to keep him
was to give and give

[Chorus] The carousel man
kept me going around and round.
The carousel man always knowing
I'd stay around.
The carousel man
wouldn't let me off his merry-go-round.

I followed him around in traveling shows
along the main county lines.
Watched him drinking his mind away,
not ever knowing my name at times.
Each night when the show closed down
he used to tell me of his dreams.
He was wearing new French suits
while I mended my torn work jeans.

[Chorus]

Then one night in Santa Fe,
the horses stopped going around.
There he was my poor rich man
lying on the Mexico ground.
All the sad music of his life
is still spinning in my mind.
The carousel starts up again
and I found my place in line.

[Chorus]

The lyrics online clearly say Mexico [forget the grammatical issue of Mexico vs. Mexican]. And why her producer Snuff Garrett, (from Texas no less; he was even a DJ in nearby Lubbock!) didn’t catch this is beyond me. You can kind of convince yourself that Cher is singing “New Mexico ground” instead of “the Mexico” ground. But I know. She isn’t. It’s a mistake.

Sante Fe hasn’t been part of Mexico since 1848. And back then there were no torn jeans or carousels visiting Santa Fe along county lines. It’s hard to look around that. I mean, obviously, most people can.  

But the pleasure of hearing Cher sing “one night Santa Fe” is now is compromised by the fact that this historic town is considered part of Mexico in all the minds of everyone writing, producing and singing the song and that makes me sad a little bit every time. A little thrilled and then a little sad. Every time.


The Cher Show Hits Chicago

Robbie-chicago-showThe prospect of a Cher Broadway show has never much filled my heart with glee. I think this is because Cher's not in it, which always takes the rest of pop culture in the universe down a notch for me. So talking about it last year felt kind of obligatory. But now that I've read about the actual details of the show, I feel a sense of new excitement about it. Because this is scholarship in action. This show is trying to make meaning of her life story. This isn't The Beat Goes On movie, part deux. Broadway artists are working on strategies to try to conceptualize Cher, structurally in a story and aesthetically with visuals and sounds. It's a cool thing for a Cher nerd after all.

The show opened a few weeks ago and there haven't been many reviews, mostly because this is a soft opening to a work in progress. A try out. Some Chicago papers have been doing feature stories on the show, like the Chicago Sun Times. Some interesting excerpts:

"...producer Jeffrey Seller, who is also the producer of “Hamilton” (playing a few blocks away at the CIBC Theatre), which tells the tale of, well, another iconic American. 'Who ever thought you could put Hamilton and Cher in the same sentence,' Seller said amid hearty laughter. 'America would not be the same were it not for Alexander Hamilton and Cher. And that is inarguably true. … People who are tenacious often are people who change the world. Alexander Hamilton unquestionably changed the world, and I think Cher, over the past 50-plus years, has absolutely changed the world"

Cast"'The idea of presenting Cher as a girl group was fascinating to me as a writer,' Elice said. 'You could have one of them argue with the other two, take sides against someone else, show how the three of them could support each other and evolve together over the course of the show. So, it’s not the cinema’s solution of here’s the young one, here’s the middle one, here’s the old one. They’re on all the time together so that we see sort of a refracted image of a personality onstage, which struck me as being a great way into a life that is so varied.'”

“'[The young ‘Babe’ Cher] is fearless but yet vulnerable and optimistic,' Block said of Elice’s unique character concept. '[Midlife ‘Star’ Cher] is confidence and poise. And I’m [as Lady] the wisdom of it all. I think the audience will really be taken aback that it’s not the young one who passes the torch to Lady who passes the torch to Star. We kind of liken it to a Russian nesting doll: There is the one doll, and then you open up and there’s the second and then the third. But yet when you put them all together it makes a complete Cher. And we’re hoping the audience really grasps and takes a hold of that because it’s not only theatrical but it’s very special and moving. … It’s this gorgeous, theatrical Cher therapy session.'”

There have also been interesting articles about the cast (ew.com and Playbill and CBS Local), the promo, Ru Paul's Drag Race put on an unauthorized Cher Rusical that was very smart and politically aware. Carol Burnett attended the opening show to support Bob Mackie.  We saw behind the scenes photos. 

I haven’t seen many official reviews yet (see one at the end of this article) but both Cher fans and theater fans have written some very good commentary on the show’s highlights and drawbacks.

Because these is long, I'm creating a post break for you.

Continue reading "The Cher Show Hits Chicago" »


Breaking the Band

BthbWhen I checked off the tags for this post, they were 'music' and then 'television." I also wished I had a tag for "reality television." Because Sonny & Cher were early music-television and reality-tv before its time. And reality TV with all its baggage of falsehoods. "Seemingly real" is what it is. And the more real it seems, the better its reenactors are.

Cher Scholar is suffering, dear friends, Cher chickadees and zombies. This is a high Cher tide and I'm so woefully behind with it. This whole year has been quite a shit show. First my department reorganized and the work seemed insurmountable. Then I hit a season of traveling that won't end until the end of July. And on top of all that, I'm spending the majority of my free time preparing the new book of poems, which involves endless rounds of editing, cover design work with an art designer, getting my photo done in a tintype theme, and taking care of all the business aspects of the book. 

Meanwhile, Cher is out there with concerts, planned tours, a Broadway show, TV docs, a new album in the works, a new movie and new publicity around all that. So much stuff I would love to indulge in and can't fully. So, so frustrating. 

But I will drop everything for a Cher documentary. And one came on last Sunday on the Reelz channel. I wasn't expecting much. It's the Reelz channel after all, full of shows like "Autopsy: [enter celebrity name]. Salacious and thin shows that seem exploitative. 

This was the first documentary on Cher that sprung for re-enactments, which was very funny. And reinforced for me why Cher and Sonny re-enactments always fail, and fail for all the same reasons. Bad impersonations. Bad outfits.

Let's start with the clothes. Seemingly a simple and innocuous thing. However, with Sonny & Cher these things are crucial. All of their cool cred was tied up in their clothes. You could say this is true for any music personality or band. The only difference between rock outfits and pop outfits is that rock singers try to play it off as authentic and organic and pop singers freely admit to using the device. The clothes on these impersonators, as in all Sonny & Cher re-enactments, looked cheap and ill-fitting. Save up all the money you would spend on a set and put it into the outfits. In comparison to these impersonators, you can see just how good Sonny & Cher looked.

The second issue is the faulty impersonations themselves. This is more complicated. Why is Cher, and surprisingly Sonny, so hard to impersonate well? They always cast for a 60s Cher and then expect her to be able to pull of 70s, 80s, 90s, etc. Cher. It's never been done. Not even professional Cher impersonators try this very often. And this is why the new Broadway show on Cher has split them up.

And then there's Sonny: he's always cast as a doofus. Just compare the Sonny re-enactor to the photos of Sonny in the documentary. The serious, competitive, intense Sonny staring back at us bears no relation to the impersonated buffoony Sonny, which tries to cast his TV persona (admitted dim) into their private scenes. The problem is the enactments are always cartoony, a caricature of the TV show characters. 

Maybe I'm just overly sensitive to a celebrity I know more about. Maybe all impersonations are bad everywhere. But I think the difficulty in impersonating Sonny or Cher (and often the discomfort we sometimes feel watching it) proves how multifaceted Sonny and Cher are as performers and people. This goes against the common critique of them since day one, that they are shallow and fluffy. But the problem of impersonation exposes problems in that theory.

The show also had some great new talking heads:

  • Don Peake, their guitarist during the Wrecking Crew days
  • Michel Rubini who was part of the Wrecking Crew and worked with Sonny & Cher into the 70s doing arrangement work and playing the piano and harpsichord
  • Cher biographers Randy Taraborrelli and Josiah Howard
  • Sonny's ex-wife and wife-after-Cher, Susie Coelho. Say what you want about Susie Coelho but she always provides eloquent, even-handed commentary and she has a unique perspective on Sonny right after he broke professionally with Cher.
  • Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour producer Allan Blye
  • Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour hairdresser Gary Chowen - hairdressers, they know stuff. 

I learned a few new things too. I didn't know, for instance, that Cher's unhappiness around their TV show was anything more than the quality of the music they were singing or the conditions of overwork. That Cher called herself Queen of a Mediocre Medium and wanted to be as big as the Rolling Stones is surprising. What boy-girl duet could ever have a shot at beating a rock band? It's inconceivable. But if anybody could have make a couple duo look cool, maybe it would have been Cher. But is she even that all-powerful?

The show also provided good commentary on what changing Cher's look and sound might mean to her soul, and her ability to grow out of Sonny, and how Sonny was smart enough to be aware of this. I was also surprised Cher offered to stay in the act for a deal of 50/50. We all know Sonny thought Cher's career would tailspin without his guidance.  And we all know how wrong he was. Gary Chowen's comments were good reinforcements around the idea of Cher’s growing up and standing up for herself. This is fresh new narrative that makes mince meat of the idea that Cher outgrew Sonny for ambition.

Chowen also illustrates an iconic irony about Cher when he comments how private Sonny and Cher were around their relationship struggles. Here they were pretending to be a reality-TV like open book onstage and in interviews, but that was all smoke and mirrors, not just their relationship status, but the entire facade of being candid performers to begin with. It was a fake intimacy Sonny had cultivated since their early days. And it's the same fake-frankness, or rather the "strategic frankness that distracts " which you can see Cher practicing even today. 

Inexplicably, the show kept calling David Geffen’s LA club On the Rox. On the Rox was the private lounge on top of his club, The Roxy. There's the club and the lounge within the club. 

 Check Reelz channel for future listings. Here's the trailer.