Review – The Cher Show, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 10th January 2023

Cher ShowThe 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.

3 ChersI 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.

3 ChersThe 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.

Gypsies...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.

Cher and GregIf 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.

BabeThe 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.

LadyBut 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. StarThree 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

Five Alive, Let Theatre Thrive!

Review – Jersey Boys, Milton Keynes Theatre, 3rd February 2015

Jersey BoysWhen Jersey Boys first hit the West End about six years ago I was quite keen to see it as I have always enjoyed the music of the Four Seasons. Mrs Chrisparkle wasn’t quite so keen, however, so we’ve never seen the show together in London. But as fate would have it, a couple of years ago when she was in New York on business there was an organised trip to see it, so she had no choice but to go. She reported back that she quite enjoyed it, but felt that the documentary/narration structure was a bit, well, tedious. So it was with good grace that she accepted the challenge of seeing it again when it toured to Milton Keynes, as I still wanted to see it. And then, in another unexpected twist, would you believe, she got called away back to New York on business again and so missed it. You couldn’t make it up. As the Crown Prince of Bedford has just discovered he’s partial to the music of Frankie Valli, there was no need for her seat to go empty.

Tim DriesenIn case you don’t know – although I’m sure you do – Jersey Boys is the tale of the rise and fall of The Four Seasons. Nothing to do with Vivaldi, a Channel Island tax haven or some guys whose mums have warned them it’s cold outside; this is the group from New Jersey (hereafter known as Noo Joisy), responsible for falsetto-based hits such as Walk Like a Man and Sherry (in the 60s) and more mainstream pop in the 70s like December 63 and Who Loves You. I clearly remember my father absolutely loving Walk Like a Man, and it’s one of the first songs I can recall from my childhood. Their 70s hits were an important part of my teenager years; you know how some songs always remind you of a particular occasion? I have a special fondness for Silver Star, which always takes me back to one, carefree, happy, summer’s day in 1975. I was sorry to see it doesn’t feature in the show.

Sam FerridayThe Four Seasons weren’t always named as such. They first started out as the Variety Trio, consisting of Tommy DeVito with his brother Nick and their friend Nick Massi. It wasn’t music that united them at that time as much as their fondness for going in and out of prison. The story takes us from those early years, where Tommy discovers and nurtures Frankie Castellucio (Valli) into becoming a singing sensation, through to their meeting Bob Gaudio, who becomes the fourth Season, and the man who writes the big hits. This is when the group is riding high. Things, inevitably, start to fade with the discovery of Tommy’s massive debts, and the personal falling-out between Tommy and Frankie over Tommy’s chatting up Frankie’s new girlfriend. Tommy leaves, Nick leaves; Bob gives in to the fact that he hates performing; so it is left to Frankie alone to become a front man for a new backing group. There are personal highs and lows throughout the show for all the group members, and each of them narrates a part of the story – Spring and Summer for the rise of the Seasons; Fall and Winter for the decline. It ends with each of the band members explaining what it was to be part of this amazing enterprise. I found it surprisingly moving.

Lewis GriffithsThis is a really enjoyable production of a lively and engaging show. It’s packed with enjoyable tunes, not only originally by the Four Seasons but also from other early 60s performers; and the regular troubles and conflicts within the ever-changing group line-up keep a dramatic intensity going that provides a backbone to the story. Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s book is full of wit and attitude; as well as the Seasons themselves there are many fascinating and well-fleshed out peripheral characters; and the performance of the music, by both the actors and the band, is stunning throughout. You know how some musicals can be really over-amplified and thus the sound is distorted or it jars your eardrums and makes them hurt? The volume for this production is perfect; sufficiently loud to be dynamic and exciting, whilst still being, if it isn’t too old-fashioned an observation, sensible.

Henry DavisTim Driesen is an astonishing Frankie Valli. His vocal impersonation of his original falsettos is spot-on; you wouldn’t know you weren’t listening to Mr Valli himself. There’s a great energy to his performance, but he also conveys the personal sadness that the character experiences with great pathos. Sam Ferriday presents Bob Gaudio as clean-cut, ambitious, and assertive; having much greater natural intelligence than his co-members; and his re-interpretation of the lyrics of Oh What A Night (December 63) means that song will never sound the same again.

Damian BuhagiarLewis Griffiths is a terrific Nick Massi – his intimidating presence lurking ominously in the background in the same way that his “doo-wops” lurk in the background of the Four Seasons songs. When his character finally comes to life and he gains his voice it adds a huge amount to the drama. In the performance I saw, Tommy DeVito was played by understudy Henry Davis and he was brilliant. A wisecracking, big-headed Noo Joisy louse, with his sense of his own importance becoming progressively more massively over-inflated as his actual influence on and contribution to the group declines; a really strong performance. Additionally the four guys together perform incredibly convincingly. Their outdated but impeccably smart dance moves that are carried out with apparently effortless ease conjure up an innocent sophistication that seems completely alien today – but it’s mesmerising on stage.

Matt GillettI really enjoyed Damian Buhagiar’s funny and punchy performance as the young Joe Pesci, introducing Bob Gaudio to the rest of the band and trying (unsuccessfully) to muscle in on their limelight; Matt Gillett gives lyricist Bob Crewe a very credible characterisation as a hard as nails producer tempered with a fluffy coating of camp; and Sean Kingsley is a strikingly effective gangster Gyp DeCarlo, blubbing at Valli’s sentimental rendition of My Mother’s Eyes, whilst looking as though he could tear you limb from limb any second. And hats off to musical supervisor Ron Melrose; the band is simply ace. I was perhaps a little surprised that the end of the show didn’t climax into a stand-up, no holding back, concert-style finale, like Sunny Afternoon; but no, it finishes with a simple rendition of Who Loves You, and that’s that. Not a concert; just like a proper musical, really.

Sean KingsleyJersey Boys attracts a wide range of theatregoers, from the very young to those who would have already have been about a bit during the group’s 60s heyday. It went down massively well in the theatre, with a very enthusiastic standing ovation. It would certainly help your enjoyment of this show if you’re already a Valli/Four Seasons fan, but even if not, the fascinating backstory of the group’s various stages and levels of success is definitely a tale worth telling. Mrs C told me I’d be singing Walk Like a Man for days afterwards. She wasn’t wrong.

P.S. It appears that not everyone felt that the volume was perfect. During the interval and at the end there were some people remonstrating with the theatre management that it wasn’t loud enough up in the Gods. Unfortunate for them, I guess; but any louder and it wouldn’t have been half so enjoyable in the stalls. Some you win, some you lose.