by Michael Bracken
There’s an awful lot of navel gazing going on at the Neil Simon Theatre these days, where The Cher Show is currently in residence. Bob Mackie, the go-to Hollywood glamor guru of the late twentieth century and no stranger to Broadway, is back. He’s created the same sort of elaborate, flesh-revealing gowns for the three actresses portraying Cher as he did for the real Cher back in the day.
The current crop of Mackie creations is quite an eyeful, with dresses at least as outrageous as their predecessors. Worn throughout the show and in a special fashion-show like sequence, bare midriffs abound, accompanied by some exotic costumes that reveal very little. Sparkles rock.
Cher needs three actresses to play its title character because it spans most of Cher’s life, from grade school forward. It’s far too much temporal ground for one performer to cover. So Micaela Diamond is young Babe, Teal Wicks is rising rocket Lady, and Stephanie J. Block is diva Star. They’re distinct personae, but as the show goes on the lines between them are sometimes blurred. All three capture, to varying degrees, the magic of Cher’s voice as it soars upward and takes its lower register with it.
Block, who gets top billing, stands out with a take no prisoners performance that is simply fantastic. A well-respected Broadway stalwart with solid credentials, she’s given the chance to show what she’s got and does she ever. With vocal chords that simply won’t quit, she can belt with the best of them and tone it down when she wants to. Her performance could easily put her over the top as a bona fide Broadway star.
Cher tracks its heroine’s ups and downs, which were more of a roller coaster than you might realize. First, she meets Sonny (a high voltage Jarrod Spector) who propels her, with himself in tow, to hippie fame and fortune. Then hard rock comes in, and Sonny and Cher are out. Next stop Vegas as a stepping stone to a television hit, the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.
The show gets cancelled when divorce rears its head, and Cher experiences a momentary downhill slide, only to be reversed when the ghost of the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour becomes Cher, with ratings that dwarf Sonny’s solo effort.
Marriage to Gregg Allman (a laconic Matthew Hydzik) coexists with a short-lived television reunion with Sonny, followed by Broadway, two Oscar nominations (one of them a win), and several concert tours. All are punctuated by periods in-between when the phone refuses to ring. But you can’t keep a good woman down, as the show likes to tell us over and over. (Cher is one of its producers.)
And there you have the Achilles heel of Rick Elice’s otherwise serviceable book. Being a superstar is hard work, and I have no doubt that Cher paid her dues and then some, but it’s a stretch to buy into her being a victim, even if Sonny did swindle her out of a wad of cash. There are two sides to every story, and we’re only hearing one. That would be fine – we’re getting her perspective, after all – if it didn’t come across as navel-gazing, this time by the title character.
Worst of all, it slows the show down. Luckily, there is far more singing than sulking, and hits like “I’ve Got You, Babe,” “The Beat Goes On,” and “Bang, Bang” feature prominently.
Christine Jones and Brett J. Banakis’s ever-changing neon-infused set smacks of Vegas – perfect for the business at hand. Choreography by Christopher Gattelli is high energy and fun, beautifully executed by the fine ensemble, but it gets a little crowded at times. The show, like Cher’s career, has a few valleys, but for the most part director Jason Moore keeps it exciting, with lots of glitz and glitter.
Open-ended run at the Neil Simon Theatre (250 W. 52 Street). www.TheCherShowBroadway.com, 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission.