By Stanford Friedman
Take three parts Cher, stir in equal parts Sonny, Mackie and Gregg Allman, set it on fire and stand back. In the chemistry class that is The Cher Show, this brazen experiment in jukebox musicality renders unstable results, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The production radiates, providing thrills when you least expect it, and setting off a slew of emotional triggers for those who grew up with Cher on their radio, television and lunch box. If it is bad form to tear up a little at a perfectly rendered Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves, it simply cannot be helped. But at the same time, the work suffers from some weak transitions, stilted dialog and a general crisis of identity. The problem is not so much that Cher is played by three different actors, but rather that writer Rick Elice cannot decide if that approach is supposed to be funny or poignant. Playing it both ways, one never knows which way the show will veer. Of course, unpredictability is an entertaining factor in its own right. Thus, with a book that barely knows what it’s doing, balanced by a director, a costumer and a star who very much do, The Cher Show is easily the most exciting new Broadway musical of the season.
The sharing of Cher’s id and ego breaks out as follows. There is early Cher (Micaela Diamond), learning from her strong mother, Georgia (a fine Emily Skinner), while yearning for a father figure. There is star-is-born Cher (Teal Wicks), molded by her love-hate relationship with Sonny Bono (Jarrod Spector, with abs the real Sonny could only have dreamed of.) And, most of all, there is late career Cher (Stephanie J. Block), providing narration, perspective, classic hits and an infinite number of costume changes. Ms. Block is transcendent, losing herself in the role, channeling Cher’s throaty vocals and comic timing without ever approaching mockery. If there is not a lot of chemistry between her and Mr. Spector, the same could be said of Sonny and Cher in general. But, when she hooks up with Gregg Allman (Matthew Hydzik), the sparks fly. Sporting Allman’s famous, flowing blond hair (Goldilocks and the three Chers!), Hydzik performs a quick, masterful set of Midnight Rider and Ramblin’ Man to provide the audience with his rock credentials.
Ms. Diamond entertains with a boppy variation of The Beat Goes On. And Ms. Wicks nicely capture’s Cher’s singing style, although not her way with a quip. When her Cher tosses a series of short jokes at Sonny, it comes off more cruelly than it should. Mr. Elice, who also wrote the book for Jersey Boys, throws the trio together or switches out one for another with little method to the madness. His way with exposition sometimes falters (Georgia: You owe the government 278-thousand dollars in back taxes! Cher: Mom, we know.), and his approach to some major life events are mystifying. Chaz Bono arrives as a swaddle in Cher’s arms with zero fanfare then vanishes just as quickly. And Cher’s earnest grief runs up against a dark comic treatment of Sonny’s death (“Stupid tree, I forgot to duck.”), effectively undercutting the moment.
Twice during the night, the production interrupts itself for the greater good. In Act One, where one might imagine a dream ballet encapsulating the singer’s life, we are treated instead to a full on Bob Mackie fashion show. Remarkably built chorus members, wearing even more remarkably built gowns from the master designer, parade around for parade’s sake. And in Act Two, Ashley Blair Fitzgerald emerges from the ensemble and dances to Dark Lady, the Gypsy fortune teller number that is perhaps Cher’s most ridiculous hit. But Ms. Fitzgerald stops the show with her graceful athleticism, displaying contortionist moves not seen since Anita Morris tied herself into knots in Nine, circa 1982. Amid the myriad costume changes, director Jason Moore somehow manages a rapid fire pace, especially in the second act as Ms. Block power shifts into full diva mode, supported by a charged up dance ensemble and, of course, the undeniable magnetism of the Cher songbook.
The Cher Show – Book by Rick Elice; directed by Jason Moore.
WITH: Stephanie J. Block (Star), Micaela Diamond (Babe), Teal Wicks (Lady), Michael Berresse (Bob Mackie/Robert Altman/Frank), Michael Campayno (Rob), Matthew Hydzik (Gregg Allman), Emily Skinner (Georgia), Jarrod Spector (Sonny), Marija Juliette Abney (Colleen); Carleigh Bettiol (Bridget); Taurean Everett; Michael Fatica; Ashley Blair Fitzgerald; Michael Graceffa; Blaine Alden Krauss; Sam Lips; Tiana Okoye; Angel Reda; Jennifer Rias; Christopher Vo; Alena Watters; Charlie Williams.
Choreographed by Christopher Gattelli; sets, Christine Jones and Brett J. Banakis; costumes, Bob Mackie; lighting, Kevin Adams; sound, Nevin Steinberg; video and projections, Darrel Maloney; production stage manager, Michael J. Passaro; stage manager, Michelle Bosch. The Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd St., 800-276-2929, https://thechershowbroadway.com. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.