Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Cher Show

In lots of ways, The Cher Show is remarkably similar to Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. Both are big, shiny, spectacular jukebox musicals about iconic female superstars, created by overwhelmingly male creative and production teams. Both feature three actresses playing different versions of the star in question at various points in her life. And for whatever reason, both use a great deal of blue lighting and trapdoor lifts, though Summer's excessive reliance on the latter ultimately kicks The Cher Show's measly, single-trap ass. In every other way, though, The Cher Show is the superior production.

Joan Marcus
Don't misunderstand me: The Cher Show is not Brilliant Art. It's silly and breezy and light, so skip it if the idea of a fun if slightly flimsy couple of hours in the theater offends you. This is the kind of jukebox musical that elicits gleeful applause at the opening notes of a pop standard, or when an actor manages a passable impersonation of a beloved celebrity (that's quite the groovy Sonny Bono voice you've nailed down, Jerrod Spector!). Still, it works in ways that Summer, which was weirdly tentative and frustratingly convoluted in execution, did not.

In the first place, Cher has a concept, however basic, that it doesn't veer from. It knows what makes its subject simultaneously larger than life and appealingly vulnerable. It recognizes that Cher has had thrilling highs and devastating lows, and it plays to them. It wisely lingers on the stuff that is most dramatically viable: her discovery by and relationship with Bono, her shifting personae, her diverse career, her relationship with her wise, tough mother--without dwelling for too long on any one thing, or attempting to dig too deep. It also knows how to make fun of itself from the outset. Having the three Chers greet the audience at the top of the first act by calling us all bitches before immediately confronting how bizarre it is, even to them, that there are three Chers hanging around onstage pretty much establishes the tone. In fact, this tactic won me over immediately, even as I remain uncertain as to why the hell there were three Chers up there, or what they were all supposed to be representing. But then, seriously now, who the hell cares? I certainly don't plan to lose sleep over the question, and I'm sure none of the three Chers give a shit, either--truly, I feel pretty secure in the notion that they all just want the spectators to enjoy looking at the shiny Bob Mackie costumes, some of which got their very own huge and elaborate production number. Reader, enjoy them I did.

Another enormously important thing The Cher Show gets right is its audience, which is largely if not entirely gay and/or female. The creative team might be just as male as Summer's was, but at least this show doesn't pander or condescend. There was something decidedly off-putting, for example, about how Summer tried to present itself as inclusive and empowering, even as as it quickly swept its heroine's infamous born-again-influenced homophobia under the rug with a few glib platitudes.

The Cher Show is hardly deep: you won't get much about Cher's life here that you couldn't learn from a glance at her Wikipedia page; probably the Wiki would tell you more. A sister is mentioned only once and in passing. Cher's relationships with her children are almost entirely off-limits. Her romances are all surfaces: they form, peak, and wither. Sonny remains an important force in her life after their divorce, but how, why, and in what ways aren't plumbed; nor is anything about Bono save that he was ambitious, business-minded, and extraordinarily controlling. Only Cher's mom (played by a fine Emily Skinner) has some depth; anyway, she seems like she was a consistent, positive force in Cher's life, whether that's true or not. Still, the show's constant nod to the importance of women doing shit for themselves--or, whatever, for their daughters, especially when their daughters turn out to be Cher--speaks volumes. So do the costumes, the huge wigs, and the autotune.

In short, this is a fluffy bauble that knows exactly what it is and exactly how to entertain. Kind of like its title character. Have fun, bitches, or stay home.

No comments: