Let’s talk about what works. Stephanie J. Block is flat out terrific. The most three dimensional Cher tonight, she achieves recognizable accent, delivery, and mannerisms, struts her stuff with panache, and makes the embattled, self-effacing heroine thoroughly appealing. Yes, Block has a full resume, but why is this woman not a star?!
Stephanie J. Block
Though Jarrod Spector’s excellent vocals are just a bit more nasal than those of Sonny Bono, every moment the performer’s on stage in this glitzy jumble feels authentic. The actor shifts emotion with seamless focus and reveals more than his on-the-page role. We already know (Jersey Boys, Beautiful) he has the 60s down.
Emily Skinner imbues the underwritten Georgia Holt (Cherilyn’s mom who was actually interesting in her own right) with warmth and breezy sarcasm her daughter acquired. A thankless turn as Lucille Ball should be cut through no fault of this fine performer.
Matthew Hydzik skillfully evokes Greg Allman both stoned and otherwise.
Jarrod Spector and Micaela Diamond
Also instrumental to the success of this show are unarguably Bob Mackie’s fabulous costumes. Not only do the triumvirate Chers change clothes so often dressers deserve battle pay, but there’s an actual fashion show, something I don’t recall on Broadway since Disney’s 2000 musical Aida. Many of the reproduced ensembles have become iconic (think back to The Academy Awards.) Hearing a very young Cher put in her place early on with, “just look pretty, it’s really all about the clothes,” sounds like a plausible comment. Deservedly the Tony Award.
In fact, Mackie dresses everyone on stage with skill, giving those as yet unaware of his range real exposure to the multifaceted talent. Remember, he was also designing every costume for The Carol Burnett Show during some of this time.
Jarrod Spector and Teal Wicks
Book writer Rick Elice (Peter and the Starcatcher, Jersey Boys – both way better) had the sense to pepper the piece with Cher’s caustic humor which adds immeasurably. Though we can only conjecture whether she compared her meeting with Sonny to that of Tony and Maria in West Side Story, the audience does actually get a sense of her Svengali; also, despite the disclaimer “Are we making Sonny seem too horrible?” the impression that he was somewhat worse than depicted.
Kevin Adams’ Lighting Design, an integral part of Christine Jones/Brett J. Banakis’ Set, ricochets from flashy/effective to garish/distracting.
I could scorn the clumsy, this book is about prologue and rhetorically ask when biopic musicals will learn that splitting a heroine into three nonlinear portrayals always gives us 2/3 less clear an idea of the person and over complicates history. Here, Michaela Diamond effectively plays “the sweet” i.e. naive one to her 20s, Teal Wicks, “the mouthy one” in middle years, and Stephanie J. Block the independent entertainment force Cher became. (All have good voices.) Actresses cross over again and again, speaking to earlier selves, robbing us of empathy. Narrative lurches. Acting experience in theater and film loses emotional pith when folded like an accordion.
Ashley Blair Fitzgerald and the Company
I could point out that Micaela Diamond is ridiculous as Cherilyn Sarkasian in the first grade and it’s more than doubtful the star chose her single name at that point in time. Or that Cher’s poor, nomadic childhood and two fathers with drug, gambling, alcohol problems might have just as much to do with who she became as her apparently sunny, encouraging mother. “The song will make you strong.”
I could note past examples of over stuffing a piece with excerpts of songs only proves full numbers to be the way to go and that innocuous dance production covering costume changes is worked out so poorly one might sit drumming fingers on a theater seat.
In the end, of course, Cher’s spirit and longevity triumph. The audience ends up on its feet dancing and clapping. So…aside from the visuals (these are also some of the best abs on Broadway), isolated performance, and familiar songs, whether you invest in tickets depends on how much you love her.
Teal Wicks, Stephanie J. Block, Micaela Diamond and the Company
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Matthew Hydzik, Emily Skinner, Jarrod Spector, Micaela Diamond, Stephanie J. Block,
Michael Berresse, Michael Campayno
The Cher Show
Book by Rick Elice
Music Supervision/Orchestrations/Arrangements- Daryl Walters
Directed by Jason Moore
Neil Simon Theatre
250 West 52nd Street