‘The Cher Show’, a Joyous Celebration of The Power of Hope and Persistence
Did you ever think you “knew” all you wanted to know about someone only to find out wonderous inspirations about them? No, I am not referring to our current president in the White House. I am referring to a feminine icon who has established herself as a tour de force for women through six decades, blowing past generational limitations and showing the way to “become” before Becoming (Michelle Obama’s glorious best-seller) was fashionable. Well, Cher, the Pop Goddess Warrior I never quite “got” is a superlative example of how no woman should allow anyone to tell her “it can’t be done!” It can be done! Regardless of how much the words are repeated, it is felt experience which sparks these words to life.. And it is the essence of this felt experience of overcoming that makes The Cher Show a celebration of women’s ability to thrive despite men telling them they cannot!
The musical hybrid (partial rock/pop concert, theatrical bio, cultural chronicle) sports a comprehensive book by Rick Elice and superb Music Supervision, Orchestrations and Arrangements by Daryl Waters. The must-see production is a mind blowing, entertainment ride down memory lane for the older crowd, and an earth shattering, eye-popping celebration of feminism (3rd and fourth wave) for the younger crowd.
Predominately, the production evidences how women (yes, there is only one Cher, but jump on the inspiration train, “bitches”) can rock it, take their power and express it with individuality, beauty and sometimes “foul-mouthed” grace. Especially now with the government shutdown standoff, the production is what we need to strengthen our comprehension of how women climb mountains though others attempt to pull them away from the top echelons of power (go Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Speaker of the House in 2019).
The Cher Show slam-bangs cultural fashions through the decades with spectacular Costume Design by Bob Mackie (portrayed by Michael Berresse). And it also pings the most meaningful signature songs of Cher’s life starting relevantly with “If I Could Turn Back Time” with the mature Cher (Stephanie J. Block) singing us back into the past to reveal her story through song.
Some songs are effected with striking dance numbers (“Dark Lady” is exceptional with Choreography by Christopher Gattelli) and staging. Actually, all of the songs really pop thanks to Daryl Waters, Jason Moore and the ensemble. There is the thrum and whirl of shimmering beauty as Bob Mackie’s gorgeous costumes, Lighting Design (Kevin Adams), Set Design (Christine Jones and Brett J. Banakis) and the song and dance numbers uplift and rouse. Guaranteed, the staging, light show, musical arrangements, legendary Cher characterizations will rock you to the point that you will be keeping the beat with your feet, though your body’s in your seat, just barely! By the end you will be standing.
The show re-imagines the essence of Cher’s career highlighting critical moments in her life. The approach to understanding Cher’s development arc, is well fashioned by Rick Elice’s book. And it is reinforced by Billboard scoring the songs Cher hit recorded through six decades of Billboard charts. Aptly shepherded by director Jason Moore, The Cher Show relates Cher’s story in Cher’s grand, elliptical style through flashback and emotional flash-forward. The action is fast paced, not only covering an equivalent of three lifetimes but probing richly into what makes Cher “Cher,” if one is prepared to see it. Women will most probably note the emotional resonances more strongly than men.
Through brief, coherent snippets, Star unifies the show and directs the action. The excellent Stephanie J. Block portrays the mature Cher who speaks from a perspective of wisdom as she gives sage advice. Block whose voice is perhaps most like Cher’s, sings many of the sensitive, powerful songs in the Cher repertoire (i.e. “Believe”). Star introduces her younger selves Lady (the wise-cracking divorcee) and Babe (the sweet child and teenage songstress who meets Sonny) portrayed by Teal Wicks and Micaela Diamond. Each derivative of Cher is one element of a dynamic triumvirate that ushers in the whole portrait we need to understand the musical life and background of the legendary Diva. Together they establish the ethos of the performer as person and vice-versa. All three are vocal powerhouses. They reflect mannerisms, voice timber, comedic delivery, singing expressions and more as an echo of Cher, and not an impersonation.
In her discussions with her mom Georgia Holt (a beautiful job by Emily Skinner) we learn of her early suffering and how music helped her overcome. By degrees, we discover she had dyslexia which made her shy and isolated her at school as bullies teased her about her being stupid and her “weirdness” being an Armenian. Interchanges which occur throughout various turning points in each decade reveal how her mother was her pillar of strength to guide her until Cher stood on her own in her career. Skinner’s mom poignantly and humorously encourages her daughter to overcome through her singing. Cher affirms her mother’s importance in her life especially after her step-father leaves. Apparently, she never knew her father.
Interestingly, Sonny Bono is perhaps a father figure, at first, who helps her grow up until she realizes her complete dependence on him must change. Thus, the production moves to the when and where of the duo who became Sonny and Cher and the evolution of some of Sonny and Cher’s greatest hits (for example “Baby Don’t Go,” “I Got You Babe,”). Sonny’s friendly, vibrant personality (gorgeously voiced Jarrod Spector gives a nuanced, charismatic portrayal) devolves under the pressure of ambition and fear. When Sonny caves to greed and Napoleonic impulses which hamper their relationship, Cher discovers Sonny completely controls their financial arrangements. A victim of the male chauvinism of the time, Cher conquers her fears of being on her own and goes solo, a first step in her confrontation with the male dominated recording industry and glass ceiling barring her own vision of herself as an entrepreneur.
As a central point of Cher’s “becoming,” this segment of the production delves into the honesty and authenticity of the peaks and valleys of her relationship with Sonny, their money woes and excesses, and their emotional, psychological and personality differences that manifested during the making of The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour and after their divorce when they got back together, with the Sonny and Cher Show. The latter featured Cher’s new lover and eventual husband for a time, Greg Allman (Matthew Hydzik). Cher always remained friendly with Sonny because of their daughter Chastity. And indeed, though the reference is humorous, the production covers Sonny’s passing. Stephanie Block’s Cher intimates her love for him has a measure of forever in it, as she delivers her memorial speech at his funneral which is poignant.
After Cher determines to continue her solo career, she in effect jettisons relationships with famous singers and focuses on herself (“men are a luxury, like dessert.”) However, as this musical highlights the turning points in her life, we note her new iterations of her image and show business persona. She moves upward expanding her levels of success. Some of these activities include her accomplishments on Broadway, in film and on concert tours. Throughout, we understand how her love relationships fueled her artistic and creative powers. And this is so even after the love appears to be gone. For life goes on.
The musical works on a number of levels. One can merely sit back and enjoy the dazzling spectacle and resplendent sensory stimulation. One can also appreciate the more profound and clarifying moments which reveal how this woman dealt with problems, love, sadness, heart-break, financial valleys (Cher sold hair products on TV at one point) show business/celebrity horrors and her sickness (her Adrenal Glands weren’t working). In short the emotionalism of life’s torques and jarring shatterings that we all must confront, work through, learn from to enrich our souls, Cher experiences and uses for her evolving artistry. The musical numbers especially, reflect the highs and the lows, the career successes and comebacks. And floating off in the narrative slips Star, Lady and Babe. Together they reveal the loneliness, fear and upsets, they must confront with each other as pals. It works for me. How can an autonomous woman not give good counsel to herself after a few marriages, divorces, children, career upsets, etc.?
The songs represent Cher’s inner and outer life. Indeed, The Cher Show reflects that her singing helped to sustain her and take her to the next level in her career. And it is that which has made her legendary. She has topped Billboard Charts for six decades and garnered over 200 awards. The only one that has escaped her thus far is the Tony which she may win as one of the producers of The Cher Show. That would mean she has won an Emmy, a Grammy a Tony and an Oscar (EGOT), the grand slam of show business awards.
The irony is that as she evolves, as the production intimates, she must confront herself as a fantastical maverick icon of celebrity, who enforces her own kind of elusive magical realism. This makes for great copy, but it also moderates the chance for love and relationships. Block’s Star best establishes the emotionalism of this realization as she thrillingly sings “Believe.”
To its credit the production uncovers what lies underneath the fun, glamor, fashionable trend-setting songstress who became an actress, producer, author and philanthropist. Thus, in its strongest moments we see the peeling back of the layers to the raw core of Cher’s angst, depression and fear that happens whenever she comes to a crossroads. In the musical are the seeds of why Cher is alone but not lonely. She has discovered that she must be her own person away from Sonny and Greg Allman and Rob Camilletti (Michael Campayno). It is in the moments of misery, financial distress, heart break that we most empathize with Cher. And it is after these moments that she lifts herself up from the abyss and soars to inspire us once more and take us with her to another level.
The mythic humanity and pathos reflected in the music especially is what makes this a rich, nuanced show. But be careful. You may be caught up experiencing all the glittering excess, that you will miss the layers. How is it possible that we are seeing an older woman defy Hollywood age barriers, gender strictures and male domination issues? This show stomps down these overarching mores. It reveals Cher’s “belief,” and sheer force of will that she demonstrates in spades. This is especially so in the number “The Beat Goes On” which Micaela Diamond sings. The song symbolizes the beats of will, synchronized to destiny that brought Cher to accomplish the unthinkable in film. As as an “older” woman she won an Oscar and Golden Globes variously for Moonstruck, Mask and Silkwood. Ultimately, Cher learns autonomy is best and moves to her own beat which she drums out for herself again, and again, despite whichever love relationship she is in.
The Cher Show is breaking records of human happiness for both men and women at the Neil Simon Theatre on 52nd Street. It captures the essence of who Cher is, and who she always was and will be, a magical, one-of-a kind, self-defining woman.
Kudos (I loved the Hair & Wig Design by Charles G. LaPointe) to all who have made this a must-see production which runs with one intermission. For tickets you can go to the website, CLICK HERE.
‘Clueless, The Musical,’ Presented by The New Group
Clueless, The Musical is a “blast from the past.” The opening projections flash photographs of people we associate with the 1990s (Bill Clinton, the Baldwins, etc.). A voice-over and vocals by Cher (Dove Cameron), her maid and others sing the song (Beautiful Life) from Ace of Base’s The Sign. The sweet, gorgeous teenage Cher, sums up her privilege, happiness and the fun of her “Beautiful Life,” with enthusiasm and hopefulness. Heckerling wrote and directed the beloved film Clueless, the basis for this Off-Broadway musical presented by The New Group and directed by Kristin Hanggi. Heckerling also contributed with lyrics.
The production in its world premiere is splendid! Especially if you love the film Clueless, you must see Clueless, The Musical. Truly, the music, dancing and spot-on singing by the principals adds to the exuberance, excitement and energy of the original story and characters.
The film Clueless was a smash comedy hit which still stands today because of the superb acting, tight screenplay and Heckerling’s clever, tongue-in-cheek direction. At the time of the film we enjoyed ranking on the Beverly Hills lifestyles of the rich and not so famous kids. Gritty New Yorkers riffed about their asinine assumptions, expectations and privileged boorishness. Clueless’s protagonist Cher (Alicia Silverstone was wonderful in the part), is an airhead, but her saving grace is her loving, generous nature and her ability to admit fault and reform.
Sounds familiar? The plot is an update of Jane Austin’s Sense and Sensibility. Heckerling performed a yeowoman’s effort in morphing times and settings and nailing with humor and irony Austin’s characters and their romances. In her adaptation, the modern events she selects to illuminate the growth of the characters are grand. The same applies for the musical.
Taking her successful film Clueless and transposing it into a musical, using 1990s music hits and adapting the lyrics to sync with the characters and situations, may seem a risky venture. Why? Many of us are up to our eyeballs in presumptuous rich folks, whose sense of privilege is nauseating. However, those who know Clueless appreciate the arc of Cher’s development, her foibles, her ridiculousness and her sparkling intelligence. As a character ripe for development and shaping, Heckerling has crafted a modern teen with whom women can identify and like, and men can find appealing.
Furthermore, Cher’s goodness is the antithesis of the privileged, ungenerous social set currently in political power in this nation, you know, those who would put children in cages at the border. Cher probably would be working with Miss Geist to do fund raisers to collect donations for the ACLU to help asylum seekers. Indeed, in seeing the safer, purer time of the 1990s, Clueless, The Musical is a relief, especially since our eyes have been opened and we are reeling from Trumpism in a divided country. This production is just what we need to ESCAPE from the present turmoil and chaos, sit back and have some much deserved fun being entertained without thinking about anything politically earth-shattering.
The production jets us back in time when the culture was carefree, the economy was hopping and Bill Clinton was the light-hearted, saxophone-playing president on The Late Show. Newt Gingrich and Monica Lewinsky are nowhere in sight. The setting is a time before Y2K, the Dot.com meltdown and horrors of 9/11. A funny joke from the 1990s? “What is Forrest Gump’s password?” Answer: 1Forrest1.
From the outset Cher assures us in song that her situation is beautiful. We understand that though she is from the upper class, she has suffered the loss of her mom. Well, to liposuction. (This gets a laugh.) Continually, Cher tries to get her Dad (Chris Hoch portrays all the adult males in her life, including her DMV Instructor, and speech teacher Mr. Hall) to eat right so she won’t lose another parent. Also, part of the family is her X-step brother Josh (David Thomas Brown). During Cher’s song, we become acquainted with the important people in her life, her schoolmates, best friend Dionne (Zurin Villanueva), her Dad and Josh. We also meet the various school cliques and learn that Cher is a member of the cool, happening crowd.
If you love the film Clueless, you will enjoy Clueless, The Musical. Essentially, the scenes and conflicts are similar with the same funny characters: the vacant Tai (Ephie Aardema), the snooty Amber (Danielle Marie Gonzalez) who we despise because she is like THOSE folks who are arrogant, privileged and presumptuous. Travis (Will Connolly), Miss Geist (Megan Sikora), Elton (Brett Thiele) Mr. Hall (Chris Hoch), Christian (Justin Mortelliti) round out the cast. A word about the ensemble. They are fantastic. Dove Cameron’s voice, movement and portrayal of Cher shines with adorableness and ingenuousness.
Cher’s friends Dionne and Tai are deftly rendered by Zurin Villanueva and Ephie Aardema, both of whom have fine voices. Tai is the new girl who Cher and Dionne take under their wing. They give her pointers like keeping away from the “grassy knoll” where the stoners like Travis (whom Tai likes), hang out.
The situations rock on. And the events follow in sequence humorously like in the film. Some of these include Cher negotiating an upswing in her grades, the party scene when Tai becomes interested in Elton, Cher’s mugging in the parking lot, the school dance when Josh watches over Cher and Christian, and the hysterical scene when Dionne mistakenly ends up on the Freeway. There is even Cher’s Driving Test.
The Driving Test is a turning point. After Cher fails she is insulted by Tai. But then she has a moment of realization. She must stop being “clueless,” must work toward the social good and turn herself around to be less narcissistic. At the bottom of her attempting to be match maker for Tai, she eventually acknowledges she yearns to make her own match. Finally, her match-making “prowess” pays off. By the time the students celebrate the wedding of Mr. Hall and Ms Geist she’s caught someone. Thankfully, happy endings do occur.
Each of these events are heightened with the music the energetic dance numbers and Heckerling’s dialogue interspersed with the songs to elucidate the action and feelings of the characters. Many 1990s music groups are featured as well as solo artists: Jill Souble (“Supermodel”), Acqua (“Valley Girls”), Deee’Lite (“Groove is in The Heart”), Natalie Imbruglia (“Torn”), En Vogue (“My Lovin'”), Spin Doctors (“Little Miss Cant’ Be Wrong”), Joan Osbourne (“One of Us”), N’SYNC (“Bye, Bye, Bye”) and more. The dialogue overlaps with the songs as some are reprised.
One noted change which clearly is an update occurs as Heckerling deepens the character of Christian. Indeed, Christian confides in Cher about being gay. He intimates it in one song and then confirms it in another song and they become friends. Justin Mortelliti does a fine job with his acting, singing and dancing in these scenes. Likewise, the songs which infer Cher’s and Josh’s growing feelings for each other engage us. The music heightens the ebullient atmosphere. The dancing, vibrant costumes and complementary scenic design cohere to make Clueless, The Musical a delight.
Mention must be made to the following musicians in the orchestra: Matthew Smedal, Charles Santoro, Marc Malsegna, David Lina-Burg, Amanda Ruzza, Adam Wolfe. And Kudos to Kelly Devine for choreography, Beowulf Boritt for scenic design, Amy Clark for costume design, Jason Lyons for lighting design, Gareth Owen for sound design, Darrel Maloney for projection design and Matthew Smedal for music direction. Music supervision, arrangement and orchestration is by Ethan Popp.
Clueless, The Musical presented by The New Group runs with one intermission at The Pershing Square Signature Center, 42nd Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues. The production closes on 12 January 2019. You may pick up tickets at their website.