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The Cher Show on Broadway, Part 2

AdOk. I’ve seen the show and I’ve completely changed my mind. Hey, I would fully admit if I didn’t like it. I didn't really like Mama Mia. I really didn't like Burlesque. Didn't even find it to be lighthearted fun. But I liked this musical. Not only that, but the people I took with me liked it too, and one was a serious non-Cher-fan going in.

What I Experienced

At intermission I turned to my friends and said, "I actually like this" and then I bought some wine from a wine vendor, (to be honest, for the Cher cup it came in), and he asked me if I was enjoying the show. I responded with an enthusiastic “yeah” and asked him if audiences were liking it. His eyes went wide and he said “Oh yeah, people love it!”

We saw the show on the day of the Women's Marches in NYC. One of my friend's reviews: "I really enjoyed the Cher show. I thought it was quite feminist and a good bookend to the day that began with the women's march. I liked the device of 3 Chers at different ages having dialogue with herself and they did a good job showing her journey to becoming independent from Sonny. I liked the way they wove the songs from different eras out of order by matching them to the story line."

I also listened to comments as we excited the theater that night and the day after when we were taking pictures of the Neil Simon Theater when the matinee let out. Our evening crowd had been typical, elderly theater go-ers with a sprinkle of Cher fans. The matinee was almost solely young and middle-aged New York women. I overheard some great comments, my favorite being the very Brooklyn sounding, “It was better than Donnah Summah!”

And I personally didn’t enjoy it because it was light fun. I cried four times. That’s not fun. The complexity of its structure made me a little anxious because I wouldn’t be able to watch it over again to dissect it. The transitions were very interesting, the thread of the story unconventional and fluid, and the stage sets very creative. Mr. Cher Scholar and I talked about those things for hours the next day. A former playwright himself, he called the gaggle of Cher’s conferring with each other (which, alone, ranks the show high on a Bechdel Test) "psychologically sophisticated.”

And any Broadway show will have the best singers you’ll ever see so hearing Cher songs re-envisioned with these big voices was quite amazing, to hear an in-tune Sonny, and an even larger-note Cher! And unlike many impersonations of Cher, this time I didn’t miss her because these actresses weren’t trying to reproduce Big Cher. They were trying to unveil a Little Cher. And that was news. That was why I wasn’t bored hearing the 'same ole, same ole' plot points about her life. 

PlaybillWas it all about her boyfriends? Not really. It was about her love and her navigation around love and career, her struggles to be assertive in work and love. Her relationship with Sonny was given revealing nuance and exposure unlike we’ve ever seen. Worth the price right there. 

It was creative and thoughtful and useful in the present #metoo moment.

So W.T.F. with these reviews? As I reconsider them, and I was so inclined to agree with their ideas, they seem oddly harsh compared to the reality of the show. At best they want the show to be more Cher-like-bigness and yet more the same time. 


Cher herself said there was no theme she could think of beyond having a good time. In retrospect I find this statement highly disingenuous. The theme was argued loud and clear and stated a handful of times by our "Old Cher" M.C. Don't give up gals when it gets tough or scary. Keep going. Walk through the great fear. If Cher can do it, you can do it. 

What I Was Anticipating

I was prepared for a big spectacle, a Cher spectacle. I was prepared to be off putt by too much glitz. And I like glitz but I also like substance. The stage was smaller than every other Broadway show I’ve ever seen with less emphasis on a blingy set, with a much more modest cast. And the costumes were a notch below Cher-bling, I thought. Reviewers made the outfits a bigger deal than they were. Not to say that there weren't a lot of them. The non-Cher fan asked me if she really wore all those outfits and I had to admit, yes...but her versions are even more outlandish.

I was prepared for bad jokes. What can I say? The audience laughed at all the jokes, which were Broadway-level jokes IMHO, not cutting-edge comedy club jokes. They landed. People clapped throughout the show and even stood up at the end.

I was prepared for a bad Sonny: and when I say nobody gets Sonny right, this one comes pretty close. They made him less of a boob and emphasized his creativity, but gave him a dash of meanness. And yes, the audience did applaud when  Jarrod Spector first captured that Sonny kind of nasal-twang while also singing very well.

I was prepared for oddly used songs but they were all creatively re-purposed. Come on: Gregg Allman and Sonny Bono singing "Dark Lady" to each other. I really love the balls it took to do that, on many levels. 

I was prepared for dissatisfaction with three Chers: Seeing "Young Cher" weave in and out of the story was very powerful. It explored what makes a person feel small and feel out of control.

I was prepared for a dull Festival of Brand and what kept it from being a total brand-fest was how self-deprecating the Chers were and how exposed they let themselves be.

OutsidePoint-by-Point Response to Bad Reviews

The New York Post claimed the show was full of "dopey dialogue" and "skin-deep dramatization" and that it wouldn't "surprise those with even a passing knowledge of Cher. Or access to Wikipedia.”

Ahem. I have more than a passing knowledge and have read Cher's Wikipedia page. I've seen more Cher documentaries than you, reviewer-guy. And since this show held "more than a passing interest" to me, I'm assuming you've been practicing that line ever since Funny Girl. 

And speaking of Funny Girl, Mr. Cher Scholar and I saw a few parallels: little girl not being taken seriously, trouble with husbands, struggle with fame and love. Did Funny Girl delve too deeply into Nicky Arnstein's gambling problem? No. Because it's a freakin' musical.

The first review of the New York Times called the show a "maddening mishmash...all gesture, no craft...dramatically threadbare, trying to solve the puzzle of its own concept, whitewash[ing] her most interesting problems."

Which problems were these? Nicky Arnstein's gambling problems again? I hope this isn't a double standard. 

But then NYT says there were "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."

Again, I was skeptical about a plot covering a 70-year life myself. But this show was more a weave of feelings and fears than it was a hero conquering a task. If they couldn't pick an emblematic episode of her life, than at least they did a good job pulling emotion through a series of life scenes. 

Variety said the show "lands as flat as the jokes."

Neither seemed to be the case at the show I saw. Shit was landing.

They go on to say, "the script never quite finds a satisfying style — or a genuine hear...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." 

I couldn't disagree more wholeheartedly. I found it much more revealing than Cher herself has historically ever been. She's a magician of straight-talking in interviews but never emotionally revealing. True, this wasn't a gush-fest but who wants that? 

Variety sensed a "cool aloofness of its protagonist"

...and self-deprecation is what I saw.

Entertainment Weekly disparaged "thin plotting" and "costumes changes subbing for character development."

This is a bell-ringing charge against Cher. She's a clothes hanger, she's all costume. Blah. Blah. Blah. There were a lot of clothes, don't be fooled. Don't be fooled. Or don't be unwilling to look deeper. 

They wondered "why not go see Real Cher who, at 72, looks and sounds at least as much like her younger self..."

Yes, it's hard to argue with this one except that the show was not about Big Cher. This is about Little Cher. They are not the same. That's exactly what the show is revealing, the difference. It's like you're saying the normal-person-Cher isn't big enough for you?

CastRolling Stone said "at times it feels like glitzy Las Vegas revue" 

First of all, have you been to Vegas? It feels ridiculous to compare this to that. But in a way, that's not an unfair comparison either. Cher is not unlike a glitzy Las Vegas revue sometimes.  

...they go on to say, "if you were to squint, could easily be the best drag show of all time — although it lacks any actual drag queens."

There’s so much going on culturally in a drag show, this oversimplification now strikes me as off and offensive. 

The Guardian said the show "highlights the lack of imagination elsewhere and the show’s need to gloss over – sequin over, brilliantine over – anything too uncomfortable or hard.”

Again, we're overstating the sequins by many yards and what hard stuff was missing? Going into what’s hard was the show's freakin' theme!

Vulture called the show "a garish, obvious pastiche, such an unabashedly soulless explosion of wigs and trite memoir wisdom."

This isn’t a biography. It’s a Broadway show. What wisdom do you get from them that is deeper than memoir wisdom? This isn't Samuel Beckett but than neither is it Rodgers and Hammerstein or Les Miserables (which I totally love). 

And then this: "I’ve gotten more real enjoyment out of watching old Cher videos as research than I did in the theater."

Well, duh. Big Cher is a joy to behold. But this is not that. Again, do you want exposure of the real person or the spectacle. These reviews argue for both at the same time.

The show is claimed to be "disappointingly guarded"

Again, I just didn’t see this. Maybe I'm so used to a guarded Cher, this felt spectacularly unguarded to me.

...and was  a "directionless attempt to squeeze Cher’s many lives into a bordered, formulaic dramatization of her career."

Point taken. Cher has had too many lives for the Aristotle arc. I don’t know how to solve that and neither do you.


Broadway musicals often remind me of silent films; the level of exaggeration demands actors play it big and simple. This is not a dramatic movie of realism or a documentary. Singing and dancing loosen up the energy. Not that you can't go deeper with song but a jukebox musical just isn't an intimate format. There is no original book of music where emotive themes could be created and carried through. And you either accept the form or you don't. Why send a reviewer who hates the horror genre to review the latest horror film? 

And here’s the real irony to this thing: here we have a show with a sub-theme about not being taken seriously, (...even the Robert Altman character explains in the show how he’s going to be skewered by reviewers of his first play, especially if he picks Cher to be in it. And he does; the man had balls) and critics fall right into their same-old complaints, failing to even acknowledge how the show self-references them. Cher has consistently been receiving bad reviews for reasons beyond the product (Stars, Believe, Sonny & Cher as a whole), getting snubbed for good, early performances (Silkwood, Mask),  getting laughed at in movie trailers, all before breaking records, gathering swarms of fans and maintaining longevity. Another set of bad reviews about a show about getting bad reviews becomes a loop of absurdity. Like it’s still f*%king happening!

It’s fascinating to see time rolling up on itself right now, Cher continuing to create new interesting things, while music and film historians are re-evaluating her past things. See Rolling Stones'  own review of her cover of "Mr. Soul."

What a crazy phenomenon it all is. And I'll be talking more about frustrations around Cher's perceived authenticity and credibility in my next post about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

In The Meantime

I talked to the merch vendor and he said a cast recording might be coming soon. 

Stephanie Block’s website has a great news feed on the show:

And my mom sent me this article about how Cher stalked Rick Elice until he would work with her.

Anyway, I know what fluff is. I hate fluff. Cher stuff is not fluff. Stop saying that it is. I loved this and can’t wait to see it again.

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:

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.


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:  (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:

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. 


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. 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:


“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.”


“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.)


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:

The Cast

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

About the Three Chers:  

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!

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 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:

The New Zealand Herald:

With Kathie Lee Gifford:

With Lorrraine:

Interviews even happened about Cher interviews:

An interesting panel discussion with the Mama Mia 2 cast and creators: 

A story about her wig in the movie:

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:  

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:

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:

You can get these on the DVD/BluRay too:

The Reviews and Box Office

Rotten Tomatoes compilation of reviews:

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


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


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


“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


“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


“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:

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.