THE role of Cher in The Cher Show, A New Musical will be shared by Debbie Kurup, Danielle Steers and Millie O’Connell at the Grand Opera House, York, next week on the European premiere tour.
In a case of Cher, Cher and Cher alike, the trio of musical actresses will portray the American “Goddess of Pop” and “Queen of Reinvention” in three different stages of her career as a singer, actress and television personality: Millie as Babe; Danielle as Lady and Debbie as Star, each delineated by a different colour scheme.
On the road since April, the year-long British and Irish tour of this Tony Award-winning 2018 Broadway smash has visited Yorkshire already, playing the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, in late-October, directed by Arlene Phillips and choreographed by two-time Strictly Come Dancing professional champion Oti Mabuse, with a book by Tony and Olivier Award-winning Rick Elice (Jersey Boys, The Addams Family) and costume design by Gabriella Slade (Six, In The Heights, Spice World 2019 Tour).
From a young child with big dreams in El Centro, California, the shy daughter of an Armenian American truck driver, to the heights of global stardom, The Cher Show tells the story of Cherilyn Sarkisian’s meteoric rise to 100 million record sales, an Academy Award, an Emmy, a Grammy, three Golden Globes and even an award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
As the publicity blurb puts it, “Cher takes the audience by the hand and introduces them to the influential people in her life, from her mother and Sonny Bono to fashion designer and costumier Bob Mackie. It shows how she battled the men who underestimated her, fought the conventions and, above all, was a trailblazer for independence”.
Thirty-five hits feature, from I Got You Babe, Bang Bang and Gypsys, Tramps And Thieves to I Found Someone, If I Could Turn Back Time, The Shoop Shoop Song and Believe, from a songbook of the only artist to have a Billboard chart number one hit in six consecutive decades.
Let’s meet the three Chers in chronological order, firstly Millie O’Connell’s Babe. “I’d worked with Arlene [director Arlene Phillips] before; she gave me my first job at 19 on TV,” she says. “She’s followed my career since then, and it’s really great to be able to work with her again. She and Oti and Gabriella are a really good production team of women and that really drew me in the most.
“Cher came into my life when I heard Believe. I was like, ‘this is brilliant’! I used to impersonate that song as a party trick, and it’s been really exciting taking that impersonation so far that it now becomes naturalistic.”
Millie plays Cher “before the high cheek bones”, from the age of six to her early 20s, having worked on voice, mannerisms and movement over an intense four weeks, all leading to a performance with multiple costume changes. “I’m going through all those eras, from before I Got You Babe to The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour; I even have one costume change on stage in the first act!” she says.
Picking out Cher’s enduring qualities, Millie says: “I love how she’s a star who never hides her vulnerability. She reveals her heart, which is really empowering, especially for women.”
Danielle Steers’s Lady takes up Cher’s story from the late-1960s to the mid-1970s. “I’m middle Cher! Starting with The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour and ending with the divorce,” she says.
“I was in a show called Bat Out Of Hell, when I was in the original cast in London and on Broadway, and I sang Dead Ringer For Love, the Cher and Meat Loaf duet. That’s when people said, ‘Oh my god, you sound like Cher, and I’d never thought of my voice that way before.
“While I was in America, The Cher Show was on there and I used to have to pass the show sign on my way to work and I thought, ‘that looks amazing’. I became obsessed!”
Danielle, born and raised in Barnsley, went through “quite the audition process”, on Zoom and in person, for the UK tour but is delighted to now be singing multiple Cher songs.
“When you hear Cher, you just know it’s her. I can’t pinpoint it, but it’s the way she sings certain words and forms her vowel sounds,” she says.
“Everyone always tries to do their best Cher impression, but though it’s hard, in this show you have to find that fine line between gimmickry and reality, and of course Cher singing now doesn’t sound like she did in the 1960s, but we have to be true to her at all times.”
Debbie Kurup plays Cher, the Star. “She’s the oldest and wisest of the three Chers,” she says. “We actually start the show with ‘Star’ having a bit of a confidence crisis and calling on the other two Chers to help her and go through the eras. I pick up the baton again in Act Two, although I narrate throughout.”
Her admiration for Cher is boundless. “She is amazing,” says Debbie. “Some of her inner strength comes from when she was bullied at school, was dyslexic and never felt she fitted in.
“Because she felt like an outsider, she’s always worked harder. She’s funny, she’s a consummate entertainer, not afraid to reinvent herself. That’s what sets her apart, making her a megastar.”
The Cher Show, A New Musical, runs at Grand Opera House, York, November 15 to 19, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday matinees. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/york.
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