Neil Simon Theater
250 West 52nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Wednesday - Sunday through June 9, $59-$229
Stephanie J. Block will blow your mind as Cher in the new Broadway musical The Cher Show, capturing the very essence of the diva in looks, attitude, and voice. Bob Mackie’s over-the-top costumes are appropriately dazzling, eliciting oohs and ahs from the audience. And Ashley Blair Fitzgerald brings down the house in a scintillating modern dance performance of “Dark Lady.” Unfortunately, everything else about this biographical tale is misguided and disappointing, beginning with its central device: The glittering icon is played by three actresses who talk to one another about their career(s): Micaela Diamond as Babe, the young Cher; Teal Wicks as Lady, the middle-years Cher; and Block as Star, the more current Cher. It’s a conceit that never works, and not only because it’s hard to believe they are all the same person but because it’s at the heart of a production that can’t stop interrupting itself. Born Cherilynn Sarkisian in California in 1946, Cher was determined to be a success from an early age. “I know what I’m going to do! I’m going to sing! I’m going to sing and act and be famous like in the movies!!” six-year-old Babe declares. After Cher complains that the other kids laugh at her at school for being different, her mother, Georgia Holt (Tony nominee Emily Skinner), tells her, “Now you listen to me, young lady. You may not be the prettiest, or the smartest, or the most talented. But you’re special, and one day the whole world will know it! You’re going to grow up to be somebody.” With that deep insight out of the way, the tale proceeds.
Jukebox musicals are supposed to celebrate the songs, but book writer Rick Elice (Jersey Boys, The Addams Family) and director Jason Moore (Shrek, Avenue Q) continually stop the action in the middle of tunes to add bits of narrative and jokes. Moore and Elice — the latter was handpicked by Cher, who was intimately involved with the show’s development — include only snippets of some of the biggest songs; very few numbers are performed in their entirety, which, combined with the other two Chers often intervening with the one onstage at any given moment, results in an extremely choppy and annoying pace. They also leave out large chunks of important detail as Cher and first husband Sonny Bono (Tony nominee Jarrod Spector) start with nothing, take over London, host a big-time television variety program in Hollywood, have a kid, break up, reconnect, etc. We also get to see her longtime costume designer, Mackie (Tony nominee Michael Berresse); her second husband, musician Gregg Allman (Matthew Hydzik); her younger boyfriend Rob Camilletti (Michael Campayno); music impresario Phil Spector (Michael Fatica); and others who played parts in her life, but it’s all very superficial.
When Star auditions for Robert Altman (Berresse) for her professional stage debut, not only does the audience never hear the name of the show (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) but they also never learn what ultimately happened, that she was in both the off-Broadway play and the film. Meanwhile, Christine Jones’s and Brett J. Banakis’s sets, Darrel Maloney’s projections, and Christopher Gattelli’s choreography are surprisingly bland and unimaginative, save for the “Dark Lady” scene, which also includes a strange face-off between Bono and Allman.
Oddly, the songs are not listed in the Playbill, which is unusual for a musical, but the hits all make an appearance, though usually not in full: “Half-Breed,” “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves,” “I Got You Babe,” “Bang Bang,” “Strong Enough,” and “If I Could Turn Back Time,” which is the theme of the show. The musical also focuses on Cher’s impressive determination to pick herself up when things are down, which has occurred throughout her life and career, although the critical moments aren’t depicted onstage. Block (Falsettos, The Mystery of Edwin Drood) is an absolute knockout, nearly enough to make The Cher Show worth your time and money. If you really need to see the genuine diva herself, perhaps you’re better off checking out her 2019 Here We Go Again tour, which comes to the Barclays Center on May 2 and the Pru on May 3. Because on Broadway, the beat just doesn’t go on.