THE CHER SHOW
images © Kyle Pedley, Pamela Raith.
Note: TWE reviewed ‘The Cher Show’ earlier in its current tour. Given that this is the same touring production, what follows is a revised version of that same review, updated for its visit to the Wolverhampton Grand.
Given that the eponymous mega diva at the heart of The Cher Show is renowned for, amongst many things, being a bonafide queen of reinvention and reinterpretation, one could be perhaps forgiven for revisiting the first ever UK production months further into its touring run and expecting a different beast altogether.
Colliding with reality, actually expecting anything of the sort would be silly, but it always remains a curiosity to return to a show featuring mostly the same cast, talent and production further into a run, to see if the fire is still in the belly, the heart still in the performances, and the belts still in the lungs. Occasionally, even, a show will really hit its groove and find its footing the further into its outing that gets, something that is absolutely the case with The Cher Show, as it returns to the Midlands for an engagement at the Wolverhampton Grand.
Given her innate theatricality and campness, coupled with an enviable roster of bonafide megahits, it’s perhaps surprising that the idea of a biographical jukebox musical of superstar Chertook until relatively recently to materialise. Manifesting first in the States as recently as 2018, the show has now landed in Blighty, and continues to shoop-shoop its way across the country under the glitzy handling of Strictly veterans Arlene Phillips and Oti Mabuse, who serve as the UK production’s director and choreographer, respectively.
In perhaps recognising there’s no singular, definitive image or idea of its eponymous star, the best move The Cher Show takes is in dissecting the pop legend into three stage-sharing personas – youthful, idealistic and hippyish ingenue, ‘Babe’ (Millie O’Connell), the commanding, breakout star of ‘Lady’ (Danielle Steers), and the reinventing, down-but-never-out, tour-de-force of ‘Star’ (Debbie Kurup). The show follows a loosely chronological journey through the superstar’s rise to prominence, and the rocky road to maintaining her career, fame and fortune. And whilst each of the three ‘Chers’ do dominate the respective chapters of her life, all three are regularly on stage at once, offering commentary, insight, or just plenty of that trademark Cher sass, as they reflect back on her (their) life.
It’s easy to see how, for some, this could perhaps be a trifle distracting or confusing, but in truth it works fairly effortlessly, thanks in no small part to the talents and conviction of its wonderful three leads. Each imbues their take with enough of the iconic mannerisms and idiosyncrasies (and, of course, that distinctive voice) to register as authentic, yet there’s enough uniqueness to each performance, with each actress mining something different and resonant, to stop the whole thing feeling like a crowded tribute act or impersonation smackdown.
What feels notably less successful and compelling (though perhaps understandably so) is the structuring of Cher’s ‘story’ as a piece of dramatic stagecraft, let alone a musical one. In truth, many of the forks in the road and twists in the tale here feel fairly fleeting and ephemeral, even when judged against many other jukebox biographies. That’s not in anyway to downplay her sheer fortitude – it’s easy to come away from The Cher Show feeling empowered and in awe of her determination to keep picking herself back up – but, for the most part, this is a show that keeps the struggles and the drama at a mostly surface level. Failed marriages, money worries, career dips – it all threatens to get a little repetitive and even inconsequential in places. This is only compounded by the fact that the seminal classics are mostly integrated as either in-universe performances (i.e. ’I Got You Babe’) or moments of emotional resonance; rarely do they propel the story or momentum forward.
Thankfully, it all moves at a brisk pace, though, and, as mentioned, Rick Elice’s book affords all three Chers plenty of opportunity to fire off zingers and one-liners aplenty, making sure it doesn’t get itself too bogged down trying to be self-important or too poe-faced. And it looks spectacular, too – Tom Rogers’ set and Ben Cracknell’s lighting not only brings a dazzling, opulent spectacle worthy of the diva herself to the stage for the big music numbers, but so too do they effectively and at times quite ingeniously chart the passage of the years and decades. There’s definitely a soupçon of her definitive work on Six to be felt in Gabriella Slade’s costumes – particular the core trio’s main outfits – but so too are there plenty of instantly recognisable nods and homages to iconic Cher costumes and silhouettes.
“…a dazzling, opulent spectacle worthy of the diva herself…”
The ensemble and choreography keep things jaunty and exciting, abetted in no small way by bopping along to such earworms as ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’ and ‘Believe’, whilst many of the supporting turns delight, too. Alternate Sonny, Guy Woolf, was fantastic in the performance reviewed, going toe-to-toe and note-for-note with the stellar wattage of leading ladies around him. The aforementioned Tori Scott puts in a beautiful turn and is in crystalline voice as Cher’s mother, singer Georgia Holt, whilst Jake Mitchell injects suitable zest, flamboyance and spark into his scenes as legendary designer Bob Mackie.
But this is, after all, The Cher Show, and it is the three leading ladies who run away with the production. All are stunning vocalists, commanding stage presences, and captivating performers. Sure, some of the narrative beats may feel a little old hat or undercooked, but you’re in the hands of consummate professionals throughout.
Which leaves an obvious, burning question to address; if the meat and bones of The Cher Show story isn’t all that profound or particularly grippingly adapted, is there really all that much separating it from a top-tier Cher tribute act? Is this just a case of ‘three Chers is better than one’, and precious little more?
For some, possibly. But, like the lady herself, there’s an indefatigable energy and sense of spectacle coursing through The Cher Show. It is a grand, lavish gobsmacker of a show that lives up to the Cher brand even if just on visual impact alone, but so too would calling it a glorified tribute act be a gross disservice to the great character work its triad of superstars pull off.
“Kurup, Steers and O’Connell are world class vocalists, and they continue to steer the good ship Cher with absolute command of stage and material.”
Revisiting the UK tour several months on, its cast are even stronger than the already high bar set back when reviewed in Birmingham in August. Kurup, Steers and O’Connell are world class vocalists, and they continue to steer the good ship Cher with absolute command of stage and material. In fact, everything here seemed just a notch elevated and more energised than the earlier performance reviewed, and there has to be something said for how beautifully enclosed and purposeful the show’s staging feels framed within the slightly more intimate confines of the Grand.
The minor quibbles about The Cher Show not quite dazzling as a dramatically compelling musical biography (it’s a little too shallow and musically disjointed remain, but, as a Cher-infused musical experience, it routinely soars. And, by the time you’re on your feet for the rousing curtain call medley, it’s almost a given that O’Connell, Steers and Kurup will have made you ‘Believe’ in the sheer infectious staying power of Cher all over again.