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The Neil Simon Theater, Manhattan

The Cher Show
Review by Deirdre Donovan

(click here for production photos)

As seen Dec 5, 2018

The Cher Show attempts to dramatize the legendary Cher in her infinite variety. It doesn't entirely succeed, but it does give you a broad swath of the public and personal life of the superstar who has dominated popular culture for over a half-century.

Directed by Jason Moore, with a book by Rick Elice, The Cher Show didn’t materialize out-of-the-blue. It was workshopped in New York City in October 2017 and then had a pre-Broadway tryout in Chicago at the Oriental in June 2018. It opened at the Neil Simon on December 3rd, as the latest incarnation of the jukebox musical on the Great White Way.

The current production is definitely eye-and-ear-filling. But if its twinkling look (set design by Christine Jones and Brett J. Banakis) and pop-culture sound (music supervision, orchestration & arrangements by Daryl Waters) are made-to-order, it does have a structural flaw: It’s difficult to find the show’s dramatic center. And why? Well, Cher’s story is told here with three actresses--Micaela Diamond (Babe), Teal Wicks (Lady), and Stephanie J. Block (Star)—playing the diva at different ages. Unfortunately, they tend to cancel one another out as they converse together at pivotal points in the action.

Although a similar concept worked terrifically in last season’s Three Tall Women, it somehow doesn’t play out as well in this bio-musical.

Fortunately, Block (Falsettos, Mystery of Edwin Drood), playing Star, eventually transcends this structural problem. Block shows so many of the colors in Cher’s spectrum that she inevitably dominates the stage. She manages to cut the cloth of Cher’s personality and wrap it around herself with swagger.

Less successful are the other two actresses playing Cher. Diamond presents the young Cher as she evolves from a wannabe star to a teen phenomenon. Wick uncovers the more experienced Cher who knows that fame can spark both good and bad things for an artist. Although Diamond and Wick do demonstrate talent, they both need to bite into their respective parts with more gusto.

Jarrod Spector, in the supporting role of Sonny Bono, is right as rain here. What makes Spector so good is that he’s not trying to be a double of the real-life Sonny. While he never completely disappears into his role, he knows how to make his Sonny mesmerizing –and credible--for an audience.

If the acting is uneven, the music is smooth as silk. The show opens with an overture that presents us with a montage of Cher’s history projected on a large circular screen. As it concludes, we hear a guitar vamp for the song “If I Could Turn Back Time.” Yes, it’s a perfect springboard for this musical that feeds on nostalgia. But it will be later songs like “I’ve Got You, Babe,” “Believe,” “Bang Bang,” and “The Beat Goes On” that keep everyone leaning in and listening to the liquid gold.

Bob Mackie gowns are show-stopping. Although I lost count of Cher’s costume changes, the haute couture that is on display is worthy of being on exhibit uptown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In one scene, we see about a dozen members of the ensemble (one is a man) glide out in in a Mackie gown. It’s an eye-popper of a fashion parade. And, oh yes. A shout out to Michael Berresse, who does a mighty fine job impersonating dress-designer Mackie.

In spite of some flaws in The Cher Show, the superior performances of Block and Spector keep the show alive and moving forward. There’s no question that a couple of first-rate actors, a ton of Bob Mackie gowns, 35 smash-hit songs, add up to a full evening of entertainment.

No, the show doesn’t totally pin-down the mystique of Cher. But when all is said and sung, there’s no question that Block’s impersonation of the diva is a coup of considerable magnitude.

Open run.

At the Neil Simon, 250 West 52nd Street, Manhattan.

For tickets, phone 877-250-2929 or visit online www.ticketmaster.com

Running time:  2 hours; 20 minutes with intermission.

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