THERE may be only one Cher, 76 and now ‘dating’ Alexander Edwards, 40 years her junior – “Love doesn’t know Math,” she says – but it takes three Chers to portray her in The Cher Show: A New Musical.
Sharing out Cher are Millie O’Connell as Babe (childhood, Sonny Bono and Cher up to The Sonny And Cher Comedy Hour); Barnsley-born Danielle Steers as Lady (the Seventies’ solo years) and Debbie Kurup as Star, the Cher-leader role of narrator and “oldest and wisest” Cher (the movie years, her relationship with bagel factory worker, bartender and actor Rob Camiletti (Sam Ferriday), the “Comeback” finale, auto-tune anthem Believe topping the charts et al).
Missing out are the Dead Ringer For Love duet with Meat Loaf and any direct reference to the 2002-2005 Living Proof: The Farewell Tour. Meanwhile, the 2018-2020 Here We Go Again tour of America (and the postponed 2022 British leg) and Cher’s role as Ruby Sheridan in Mamma Mia! 2: Here We Go Again, the 2018 excuse for a second Abba movie, have both added to her legacy since The Cher Show made its June 2018 debut in Chicago.
No complaints at any absentees: the running time of two and a half hours (including a 20-minute interval) has so much to cram in already from Cherilyn Sarkisian’s life as the 100 million record-selling “Goddess of Pop” and “Queen of Reinvention”, singer, actress, television host, fashion icon, drag queen favourite and charity founder.
No time to lose, Rick Elice’s book seeks to crack the whip in trademark Cher style, opening with Kurup’s Star undergoing a crisis of confidence in her dressing room and seeking words of comfort from her younger selves, Babe and Lady.
Hearing all three speak in that quavering Cher alto with her distinctive vowel sounds is a tad freaky at first, but it instantly establishes their rapport, as they observe each other, comment and banter, sing together, overlap but never undermine. When shall we three meet again? In studio, divorce court or in pain? When the hurly-burly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won.
Battles aplenty there are, from childhood days of dyslexia and feeling she did not fit in at school as an Armenian American with dark hair, days when her truck driver father, with his drug and gambling habits, just upped and left. Yet there is humour aplenty, a knowing Cher trademark, both in Elice’s book and in Arlene Phillips’s direction, from the moment O’Connell’s Babe enters on a bike, aged six, in Sixties’ Cher garb and already with an adult voice.
The balance of light and darker; of being funny and being laughed at; success and slumps; falling in love and out of love; the tongue in cheek and not turning the other cheek; having hits and fallow spells; singing and acting; concerts and TV, (over)working and motherhood, ebbs and flows throughout. All played out against a backdrop of a woman having to fight against a man’s world, rebelling against convention, whether dealing with Phil Spector (Ferriday), Sonny Bono (Guy Woolf this week, alternating on tour with Lucas Rush), Greg Allman (Ferriday again) or TV directors.
There are constants too: the love and support of her mother Georgia (Tori Scott); the constant drive for reinvention; the eye for a costume of her designer, Bob Mackie (Jake Mitchell).
Whether singing solo, in duets or sometimes, better still, as a trio, the three Chers do Cher proud, capturing the drama, passion, swagger, yearning, defiance, assertiveness and droll melancholia of that extraordinary alto voice. Never settling into broad impersonation, they find the heart and humour and hurt in Cher, both individually and collectively, attuned to the facial and bodily mannerisms, the gradual change in the singing tone too.
Woolf seeks to make Sonny a rounded figure, a man of talents and faults alike, but one who kept playing his part in her career; Ferriday has a field day with assorted cameos as men who came and went.
If you enjoyed Gabriella Slade’s costume design brio with bling dazzle in SIX, then you will love it in The Cher Show, where she broadens the colour palette, denoting a different mood board for each Cher, but with black and silver still to the fore for Star and the ensemble alike.
Tom Rogers’ set combines row upon row of garment bags and wig stands with recording studio and concert hall paraphernalia and room for home interiors and spectacular performances on towering steps.
Oti Mabuse’s choreography plays true to the Cher trademarks and is thrilling for the three Chers, rather less so for the well-drilled but somewhat monotone ensemble.
Best number? Every detail coming together, from singing to choreography, orchestrations to design, for Bang Bang. Believe seeps in and out, acting like a theme tune; Half-Breed is poignant; Strong Enough, resilient; I Got You Babe as love-struck as a crush could ever be; The Shoop Shoop Song, cannily returned to its 1960s’ roots.
Three cheers for the three Chers, but if I could turn back time, a tightening of the text would have been beneficial. Less Cher to share, yes, but better for the glitter and the grit, the wow factor and the wit before the party finale.
The Cher Show: A New Musical, runs at Grand Opera House, York, turning back time until Saturday, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York