The Cher Show has been touring the UK since April last year, but this was our first opportunity to catch up with it during its already lengthy run. In the US, it originally opened in Chicago, and then Broadway, back in 2018. But in the UK it went directly into a tour, rather than opening in the West End first. Was that the theatre equivalent of a film being released straight to DVD? I hoped not.
I needn’t have worried! The Cher Show is a truly spectacular production, with amazing costumes, sensational lighting, a brilliant band, staggering choreography (given it’s directed by Arlene Phillips and choreographed by Oti Mabuse, you’d expect nothing less), excellent set and superb performances. And it has a fascinating story to tell; that of one Cherilyn Sarkisian, born in 1946 to singer/actress Georgia Holt and her first husband, John Sarkisian. Young Cherilyn always had stars in her eyes, and Georgia always encouraged her to realise her dreams. And, if nothing else, the show reveals how Cher grew in maturity and wisdom over the years, recognising and accepting her mistakes, using her experience to grow stronger, and to reinvent herself to match the times and her needs.
The big trick with this show is that there are three performers each representing Cher, at different times of her life. There’s “Babe”; the very young Cher, the Cher who did backing vocals for Phil Spector, the Cher who meets Sonny. There’s “Lady”; the Cher whom Sonny works to the ground, the Cher who divorces him, the Cher of the Bang Bang era. And there’s “Star”; the Cher who constantly reinvents herself, Cher the film star, Cher who sings Believe, the Cher who’s an icon. But rather than having the three of them tell their part of her story in chronological order, all three are omnipresent. This really helps to gel her life together. Whilst Star can look back fondly at her life and celebrate it, warts and all, Lady is more critical of her mistakes and misjudgements and Babe is constantly wide-eyed and enthusiastic, ready to take a risk and perhaps dismissive of the advice of her older self. It works incredibly well.
And of course there are the songs! With a career currently entering its seventh decade, there is a veritable plethora to choose from, and pretty much most of the songs you’d like to hear are included. I do have a bugbear though; why do they omit the second verse of my own personal favourite Cher song, Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves? It saves, what, forty seconds, within a two and a half hours show? Oh come on! Although, to be fair, a few songs get the shortened treatment. And there are a number that you might not possibly have heard for many a year. I’d certainly forgotten all about Bang Bang, Just Like Jesse James, and Dark Lady. And I only knew Heart of Stone as a Bucks Fizz song. So there’s a great mix of music, which keeps the show feeling fresh in a way that some lesser juke box musicals (no names, no pack drill) don’t.
If there is an aspect of the show where it slightly fails to excel, it’s in the story-telling. Whereas for the most part the story of Cher’s life is told at a reasonable pace, quick enough to keep the audience engaged but slow enough to allow the emotions to sink in, occasionally it smashes through time like a bull in a china shop, leaving the audience a bit confused. For example, Cher’s relationship with Rob Camilletti is beautifully portrayed in its early days (I love Lady’s line likening the age difference between the two to dating an ultrasound), but when they’re out together and attracting the paparazzi, the end of the relationship (following Camilletti’s imprisonment) is told in about twenty wham bam thank you ma’am seconds. A stupid person could be confused; and I indeed did have to ask Mrs Chrisparkle on the way home how it was that their relationship ended so suddenly. Fortunately she was paying attention.
The performances are all absolutely top-notch. Lucas Rush, whom we last saw a year ago as a brilliant non-binary baddie Carabosse in Sleeping Beauty in Sheffield, is a remarkable match for Sonny Bono, getting just the right level of vain bossiness and charisma, and with an excellent vocal imitation. Tori Scott is superb as Georgia, a unifying thread throughout Cher’s life, with an amazing singing voice and a terrific ear for the comic opportunities in the script. Jake Mitchell is great as the costumier Bob Mackie – elegant, dapper and camp; and Sam Ferriday’s characterisation skills are exploited to the full in his four roles – perhaps at his best when portraying Greg Allman. Oti Mabuse puts the ensemble through their paces with her invigorating and rewarding choreography, and they come up trumps every time.
But the evening does belong to the various Chers. All three have an extraordinary vocal range and the ability to impersonate Cher’s distinctive tones to a T. Millie O’Connell has a fantastic stage presence as Babe, equally at home conveying her young sassiness as well as her nervous anxiety at meeting and working with celebrities. Danielle Steers gives a strong and very credible performance as the Cher who pretty much knows the ropes and knows what she does and doesn’t want – and isn’t afraid to get it. And Debbie Kurup’s Star exudes energy and genuine star quality with her amazing presence and feelgood smile that lights up the entire auditorium, but also has the wisdom of the years to know when to forgive herself. Three superb, complementary performances that show us the many sides of Cher.
The tour continues until March, visiting Liverpool, Bristol, Wimbledon, Torquay, Oxford, Llandudno and Norwich. Whether you’re a massive fan of Cher, or just generally like her work (like me!) there’s loads to enjoy in this spectacular night out. Mrs C was up on her feet at the end like the proverbial rat out of the trap. If I gave the show less than five stars she would kill me.
Production photos by Pamela Raith