I’ve lived in New York City for the better part of a decade, and I’m pretty sure I can count the number of Broadway shows I’ve been to in that time on both hands (I used to be able to blame it on being a broke college kid. Now I’m blaming it on being an 80-year-old woman on the inside who usually just wants to go home after work to comfy pants and eventually fall asleep to Murder, She Wrote reruns). But I will absolutely devour everything dealing with Cher and her life story, and I mean EVERYTHING: the good, the bad, and the downright infuriating (do not get me started on that Sonny and Cher TV movie from the ‘90s unless you want me to rage for 24 straight hours about it). So when I heard that there was going to be a musical based on her life, filled with her songs, I knew that this would be a required night out. And while I tried to hold out until the official opening, I couldn’t help myself; I bought myself a last-minute ticket to the earliest preview of The Cher Show I could, sat down with my souvenir cup full of cosmo, and wondered if I would be putting this in the good pile, the bad pile, or the downright infuriating pile.
You guys. You. Guys. I am OVERWHELMED by how much I loved this show.
Considering how much you all know I love my queen diva, I knew that The Cher Show was either going to be something I unabashedly loved or unabashedly hated with nothing in between; I knew the fact that having three people play Cher (Babe takes us through the Sonny and Cher days, Lady through the ‘70s, and Star carries out the rest) could really go either way. And I am SO GLAD I landed in the former category on this one. This production was funny, it was heartbreaking (I cried twice before intermission), and most importantly, it completely embodied what I have always believed to be the spirit of Cher. So many of my favorite songs made the cut, including a few I was in no way expecting to hear. And the audience was so here for every bit of it. It honestly made me feel the way I always feel at one of her concerts: overflowing with love for this badass icon, and unable to say much of anything about it outside of some version of this exact sentence:
So in case you’re still on the fence about this show, or if you’ve already got your ticket and can’t wait until showtime to get the scoop, allow me to throw my two cents into the mix. I had so many reactions to so many things, and I can’t wait to share them with you. I’m going to do my best not to completely spoil everything (I feel like if you’re a Cher fan, the actual events depicted in the show are unspoilable anyway), but obviously I’m going to rattle off what I loved about this production. So if you’re planning on seeing it and want to go in blind, you might want to hold off on reading this until later; maybe then, we can compare notes. But if spoilers are kind of your thing, I just have one thing to say: Let’s do this, bitches.
First thing’s first: it wasn’t perfect.
I’m not here to tell you that this thing was flawless, because it wasn’t; my unconditional love for my diva has not blinded me. There were a couple elements that didn’t work as well for me as everything else did. The way the show was structured did end up slightly pulling me out of things at times; Cher ends up narrating her life story (sometimes it’s just the Star looking back on her life, sometimes it’s all three Chers reflecting with each other), and there were a couple instances where I got so invested in the action of that story that it was a little jarring to be pulled back out for some more reflective commentary. They took some liberties with Sonny and Cher’s timeline (I love how no one ever speaks about the fact that Chastity is a movie that exists–one that I’m pretty sure I only fully understand when I’m a few drinks in–but later down the line of this show, the infamous infomercial makes an appearance) which only tripped me up because of how many times I’ve read Sonny and Cher’s timeline in books. And there were also a few points when some of the songs were rewritten to reflect the action in the story. Sometimes, those new lyrics stuck out like a sore thumb. But when they got it right, they got it RIGHT; in particular, they rewrote “Bang Bang” to reflect the demise of Sonny and Cher’s marriage, and not only were the new lyrics incredibly on point, it also carried an extra punch when you consider the fact that Sonny is the one who wrote “Bang Bang” in the first place, and now his words are being rewritten to tell Cher’s story.
Here’s the thing, though: those instances in no way diminished the overall show for me. This is mainly me being a little nitpicky because I found myself so laser focused on every little thing. There are so many things to love about The Cher Show, though, so let’s get to all the times I probably overreacted in my seat (which was totally cool, because everyone around me was in the same boat).
Stephanie J. Block really is Cher, you guys.
One of the main things I was worried about going into this was how Cher was going to sound during this production. Cher has such a distinctive voice, and it is so easy to do a terrible impression of it…just ask Jack McFarland. And while Jack trying to out-Cher Cher on Will & Grace is iconic in its own right, it’s not exactly the experience I want to see at The Cher Show. Micaela Diamond and Teal Wicks held their own as Babe and Lady, respectively; you can really see how much of a handle they have on some of Cher’s mannerisms throughout their performances. But holy god, Stephanie J. Block just EMBODIED Cher as Star. Her attitude, her inflections, the way she moves when she sings; it all felt so true to my diva, my heart overflowed. And she absolutely nailed the voice; there were times where I had to sit back stunned that she sounded so much like Cher.
Also, props to all three Chers for being able to belt out the two songs Cher herself says are the hardest in her catalog (hence why she rarely performs them live), “Song for the Lonely” and “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me.” That is no easy feat, and they crushed it.
Jarrod Spector sounds EXACTLY like Sonny Bono, and it’s eerie.
Sonny’s singing voice was definitely a unique one, regardless of how weirdly well it worked with Cher’s. Just about every time I see someone portraying Sonny, the singing voice is almost there but still isn’t quite right. The second Jarrod Spector started singing, though, literally everybody had some sort of vocal reaction to it. It’s incredible how much he sounds like Sonny; it honestly sounded like they just had him lip sync to Sonny and Cher recordings even though you knew that’s not how it works. They hit the casting jackpot with this guy; it’s hard to imagine anyone else filling Sonny’s shoes.
Oh my god, the songs, though.
I think I just automatically assumed that the songs I’d hear in this production would be the songs I’d hear at any given Cher concert: the ones everyone knows all the words to, the ones I’ve heard a billion times before but never get tired of. And there are a lot of them in here; I mean, come on, you can’t do a musical about Cher and not have stuff like “Believe” and “If I Could Turn Back Time” placed somewhere. But what I loved about The Cher Show was that it also went for the songs that you wouldn’t expect at first. “You Better Sit Down Kids” was used during a scene where the man who was like a father to Cher leaves. “When the Money’s Gone” was used for when Sonny and Cher marry. “Living in a House Divided” (one of my faves from the ‘70s, by the way) depicted the beginning of their downfall. And I’m only scratching the surface here. You’re never going to hear Cher sing these songs live anymore–if you ever did to begin with–and it was just so refreshing to see that they had a place in this show, that songs like these aren’t forgotten.
What was also great about this production is that the songs weren’t presented chronologically; rather, they placed her songs where they best fit the narrative. Let me tell you something, seeing Cher sing “Strong Enough” to Sonny was so supremely satisfying and I didn’t realize how much I needed that. “Song for the Lonely” was the song that punctuated rock bottom when it came to their marriage and it made me openly weep to hear the Chers sing it in that context (truth be told, that song gets to me regardless–it’s helped me through some darker times in my life–but to hear it like this ripped my heart to shreds). And the new arrangements for some of these songs were so effective I couldn’t stand it; there was a point where Sonny and Cher sing “All I Ever Need Is You” during The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour while their marriage is in shambles, and the overly peppy and positive arrangement of the song really amplified the fact that they had to put on a happy face for the camera while everything was falling apart behind the scenes. The way this show treated my diva’s catalog is something to behold.
Which brings me right back to “When the Money’s Gone.” This isn’t really one of Cher’s more well-known songs, so to truly convey what this number did to me, here is the original:
I’ve always regarded this as the quirky, fun song at the end of the Living Proof album; it’s a lot of fun to dance around to and sing along with, but it wasn’t all that emotionally deep to me. But then The Cher Show decided to strip the song of its dance elements, slow down the tempo, and have it be the song that a broke but still very much in love Sonny and Cher sing to each other when they decide to finally get married. Suddenly, it becomes like this set of vows between two people who have fallen on hard times after seeing an insane amount of success. It is so incredibly earnest and heartfelt, and I can’t believe I’ve never heard the song presented like that until now. I love how this show absolutely stunned me with songs that I’ve known and loved for the majority of my life, finding completely new ways to present them.
But for real, I spent most of my ride home playing “When the Money’s Gone” on repeat trying to figure out how the hell this became a song that made me cry all over myself. The Cher Show fucking did that.
Lucille Ball sings “Heart of Stone.” Yeah…you read that right.
And the weird thing is, it worked for me? They didn’t even really need to include this part in the show at all–it’s just a brief back and forth between Lucy and Cher as they commiserate over divorcing their creative partners–but it was oddly wonderful. “Heart of Stone” is without a doubt one of my favorite Cher songs of all time (to the point where I have the heart of stone from the original album cover tattooed on my wrist) and I would have been so upset if that song was turned into a joke, which I feel like could have so easily happened here. Thankfully, this unexpected turn of events kept the weight of the song in tact while still being able to make it a little humorous. I honestly can’t believe how much this bit didn’t bother me.
There’s a whole number dedicated to her iconic Bob Mackie costumes, AS THERE SHOULD BE.
Let’s be real, if Bob Mackie hadn’t have been the costume designer for this show, a good deal of the point would have been destroyed; his work is so intertwined with Cher by now, there’s no question that he should get his moment to shine in the show. And keeping entirely true to the performer we know Cher to be, this number had AT LEAST twenty different costumes going on at once (I know there were more than that…eventually, I just lost count). It was basically like they decided to recreate the opening to her Cher…And Other Fantasies special from 1979, especially because the song that accompanied it was the song that opened that special, “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do.” So just picture the following clip on a Broadway stage, and you’ve got the number:
It was just such a visually stunning part of the production, and I seriously could have just watched a bunch of Mackie creations dancing by all night and had no complaints.
Sonny Bono and Gregg Allman battle each other in a “Dark Lady” duet.
When I read up on the Chicago previews and saw that this was a thing, I was equal parts “Why would you ever do this to my schmaltzy story song jam?” and “I absolutely need to see this shitshow.” Imagine my surprise when it ended up being the direct opposite of a shitshow. This number was situated right smack in the middle of the transition between Cher’s solo variety show and the return of The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, navigating working with Sonny while pregnant by Gregg, both guys thinking they know what’s best for her as they try to settle the matter with a sing-off (because of course). They sing an edited version of “Dark Lady” here because I apparently will never get a full-length version of this song live in any capacity ever in my life, and the lyrics they ended up using actually worked for the situation; it was the showdown I never asked for, but will gladly accept.
AND THE CHOREOGRAPHY FOR THIS NUMBER. Basically, Sonny and Gregg are vocally duking it out while Cher’s dancing with the ensemble in the background, and it’s so hard to focus your eyes on anything that isn’t her in that moment. Some of those lifts…I was not the only person in my section who had very vocal reactions to them.
This iconic exchange made it into the show:
Nothing more needs to be said.
The audience was just as on fire as the cast.
One of the best things about being at The Cher Show was that the audience was filled with Cher fans who were all so into the production. Everyone in my section was so legitimately invested in everything that was happening on stage, and that overall feeling was so contagious. There’s no doubt that there’s going to be a bunch of Cher fans filling the seats on a consistent basis, so I have a feeling it’s going to be like that for every show, and I’m so glad. It felt like being in the middle of a sea of Cher fans at one of her concerts, adapted for the Broadway scene. It just added so much to the experience of being there, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
This show proves “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” is my diva’s personal anthem.
And I’m not just talking about the moment all the Chers actually sing it (although, it’s at a pretty apt part of the show and–yep, you guessed it–made me cry all over the place).
If this show is about anything–other than basically everything Cher has been through up until now, of course–it’s about my diva’s resilience. So much of why she’s been this badass role model for the last twenty years of my life is embedded in the show. She was scared to get out there at first, but she worked her way through it. She had been told that if she made certain decisions in her career, that career would be over (like essentially being told that she would be the most hated woman on the planet if she ever broke Sonny and Cher up), but she stuck to her truth and did what she knew was the right thing to do. Everyone thought her career was dead a few times over, but she always came back bigger and better and stronger than ever. Of course it’s fun to hear new interpretations of her songs, and it’s fun to see how spot on the cast is when it comes to the look and sound of the people they’re portraying on stage. But there is no way this production would have worked so well, no way I would have cried and clutched my heart and vocally reacted and just become absorbed in all of it, without that “Can’t stop me, it’s not the end” attitude that has always surrounded Cher. It’s incredible that my heart was so full with her by the end of the show, and she wasn’t even in the show.
They did my diva justice. And that’s the greatest thing.
Bottom line: if you’re a Cher fan, you need to see this show. Previews are happening through the month in preparation for opening night on December 3, so treat yourself to a theatre night out. And you better believe that I’m going to see this again once it officially opens. I can’t wait.
Have you seen The Cher Show in previews in New York? Or maybe in Chicago? Let’s compare notes in the comments.