“The Cher Show”

Theater Cher Teal Wicks, Stephanie J. Block and Micaela Diamond in THE CHER SHOW at Broadway in Chicago’s Oriental Theatre—photo-by-Joan-Marcus

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

Where: The Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St.
When: Through July 15
Tickets: $35-$115
Phone: 800-775-2000

By ANNE SPISELMAN
Theater Critic

Cher is one of a kind, a true legend who has spent more than five decades cannily re-inventing herself as everything from a hippie pop singer to a movie star.

Maybe that’s why book writer Rick Elice and the other creators of “The Cher Show” decided to have three actors play her in the bio-musical having its pre-Broadway premiere at the Oriental Theatre.

It’s not their worst decision. Micaela Diamond, who plays the young “Babe” of “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour” era; Teal Wicks as the mid-career “Lady,” and Stephanie J. Block as the “Star” all have powerhouse voices that sound more-or-less like Cher’s, and they belt out dozens of favorites like “I Got You, Babe” and “Believe” with enough style to elicit cheers from an enthusiastic opening night audience. In an interesting twist, they don’t portray the icon sequentially but instead switch back and forth and often join forces, so they can support and comment on each other at various stages in her life.

Unfortunately, the rest of the show’s structure is a confusing mess. The evening gets underway with a frame that suggests we’re watching a rehearsal for a variety show about Cher’s life. But since the action includes sequences from the television shows she was actually on, we soon lose track of which scenes are supposed to be part of those, which belong to the frame, and which are about the “real” Cher who takes her time heeding the call to come onstage at the outset.

The trajectory of her life as presented in disappointingly formulaic. Raised by an encouraging single mother, Georgia Holt (the terrific Emily Skinner), who teaches her she’s special despite prejudice against her part-Armenian heritage, she’s basically discovered by Sonny Bono (the spirited Jarrod Spector) who manages her career and his own. As their fame grows, he works her to the bone while keeping control of the business end, and that coupled with his philandering (only alluded to) and intense jealousy lead her to leave him, though she continues to love and be influenced by him for the rest of his life, or so this story goes.

What follows is a series of ups and downs, dictated by two more failed relationships—with Gregg Allman (Matthew Hydzik) and Rob Camilletti (Michael Campayno)–and lots of bouts of self-doubt. In the end, though, Cher pulls herself together, and with a little pep talk from Lucille Ball along the way, more wise words from Mom, and a lot of “I will go on spirit” looks forward to finding love someday.

While Elice and director Jason Moore simply haven’t figured out a good way to handle certain facets of Cher’s life—her movie career, for example, is treated mostly as a quest for a best actress Oscar, and her children are pretty much ignored—saddest of all is that this obviously smart, savvy, self-made woman is defined largely by her relationship to men. We also don’t get enough of her complex personality, especially her sly sense of humor, despite some predictable wise cracks and sarcasm.

As for the technical aspects, Christine Jones and Brett J. Banakis’ scenic design and Kevin Adams lighting feature lots of bells and whistles but not much more. Choreographer Christopher Gattelli has come up with a couple of bang-up numbers, but others are surprisingly lame, and on opening night, the dancers sometimes were out of step. Meanwhile, the brassy orchestra under conductor Andrew Resnick seemed to be in competition with the singers as to who could be loudest, though they weren’t always in sync.

In truth, the highlight of “The Cher Show” is the procession of fabulous costumes designed by Bob Mackie and, at one point, paraded across the stage in a fashion show straight out of a Florenz Ziegfeld musical or Busby Berkeley movie. With some luck and a lot of reworking, maybe the rest can measure up before it heads to the Big Apple.