THE CHER SHOW
Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 2nd August 2022
Charting the life story of one Cherilyn Sarkisian, this show gives us not one, not two, but three Cher-alikes, depicting the diva at three stages of her career. There is Millie O’Connell as Babe, taking us from bullied schoolgirl to budding hippie popstar. There is Danielle Steers as Lady, showing us Cher in the Sonny Bono years. And there is Debbie Kurup as Star, giving us Cher post-Sonny and beyond. Each performer is phenomenal but I find when they’re all on stage together, I can’t help but compare them: this one looks most like the real thing… that one sounds most like the real thing… The other one can do the hair toss… When they’re all chatting in that characteristic and highly mannered way of speaking, it’s a bit weird. What starts as a narrative device becomes an alienation effect, and I can’t warm to any incarnation.
Rick Elice’s book contains some zingers but on the whole I get the impression that Cher has had a miserable life. The script focusses on the low points, the relationship break-ups, the unemployment, while successes (winning an Oscar) are glossed over. Some songs fit their moments better than others, but we get all the hits – and more.
With Arlene Phillips directing and Oti Mabuse choreographing, as you might expect, the staging of the musical numbers is top drawer, energetically executed by an excellent ensemble. Production values are high, although the set, which mainly consists of row upon row of costumes in bags suspended on rails, gives the impression that the main events of Cher’s life took place in a dry cleaner’s.
As well as the three Chers, we get Lucas Rush bringing moments of tension as Sonny Bono, Jake Mitchell camping it up as Bob Mackie, and the versatile Sam Ferriday playing a range of parts including 70s rock yeti Greg Allman. There is strong support from Tori Scott as Cher’s mum, although she does repeat the key line, “The song makes you strong” a little too often. One moment is splendidly touching: the recently deceased Sonny duetting with Cher one last time, before she realises she’s no longer got you, babe.
Danny Belton conducts a splendid band. The story might come across as a bit of a downer but the music is relentlessly uplifting, culminating in the inevitable megamix that gets everyone on their feet and enjoying the party atmosphere. And there is much to enjoy, in the performances, in the music, but I feel unengaged and distanced from the material, and I love Cher as much as any gay man.
☆ ☆ ☆