I’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.
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
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...
“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
“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
“...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
“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
“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
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 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
“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
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:
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!
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...