Review by Daz Gale
For its UK premiere, The Cher Show took the unexpected choice of skipping the West End and embarking on a UK tour, giving audiences up and down the country to see this Broadway transfer. Kicking off in Leicester in April, I made sure I was at the first night (You can check out my recap here) but was itching to return so I could review the show properly. I'm not particularly patient so was unsure if I was strong enough to wait this long. So how did it fare when I finally returned after a long four months to view it through reviewer eyes?
Based on the life and career of the iconic and ageless Cher, The Cher Show premiered on Broadway in 2018 but only managed to last eight months there before closing. A US tour was planned but delayed due to Covid meaning this revised UK production is the first time the show has been seen since.
Its unique narrative structure sees not one but THREE actresses sharing (Chering?) the role of Cher at different times in her career. This allows Star, the oldest of the three Chers, to look back at the earlier days in her career when she was Babe and Lady. This inspired narrative allows the three actresses to interact with each other, adding a fantasy element to the story and allowing for some fittingly camp moments (Look out for one Cher quoting one of her most iconic lines to another).
Stepping in to Chers iconic wigs is no easy task but some incredible talents have been gathered to play the legendary diva. Millie O’Connell plays Cher in her younger years as “Babe”. Having seen Millie in several shows previously, I have never seen her perform as brilliantly as she does in The Cher Show, channelling Cher in a convincing performing, underpinned by her undeniably incredible voice. Towing the line from childhood innocence mixed with cockiness, Millie shows her versatility as a performer in a truly powerful performance.
When I first heard Danielle Steers was cast in The Cher Show, I was incredibly excited. The first time I heard the tone of her voice in Bat Out Of Hell, I said she HAD to be in this show if it ever came to the UK, and thankfully the casting director agreed. Playing “Lady”, Danielles natural singing voice has such a beautiful and special tone that lends itself perfectly to Chers songbook in seemingly effortless performances. She also adds the diva attitude for her part of the story which sees Cher come into her own as she breaks free of Sonny. A remarkable singer and actress, Danielle is every bit as sensational in this role as I had always hoped.
The third Cher is given the title of “Star”. This is usually played by Debbie Kurup, who having seen earlier in the run, is truly amazing in the role, giving an authentic performance as the older Cher who brings us bang bang up to date with THAT classic comeback single (I believe you know the one I’m talking about?). However, for the performance I went to in Milton Keynes this week, I was in for an unexpected treat as understudy Samantha Ivey made her debut in the role. As an avid champion of understudies and swings, I am always excited to see new takes on the role and support emerging talent – I have seen many a star emerge on stage from an understudy performance. For her first time in the role, Samantha demonstrated a beautiful singing voice though she was noticeably not as convincingly Cher as her fellow two performers. This is to be expected though, given this was her first time playing the role in front of an audience. I’m sure given time she’ll snap out of it and be able to portray the Star that is Cher.
The Cher Show isn’t just full of Chers. There are unbelievably other characters in it too. Lucas Rush gives a star turn as Sonny, perfectly encapsulating her other half. While his time on stage is relatively short *cough* compared to hers, they make the most of it, giving a memorable performance. Tori Scott is wonderful as Chers mum Georgia, lighting up the stage whenever she is in it, while Jake Mitchell is fabulous as Bob Mackie. Sam Ferriday shows fantastic versatility in a number of roles including Greg Allman and Rob Camiletti, with a ridiculously talented ensemble complete the cast.
The book by Rick Elice adapts Chers life in a way that feels true to her. Full of camp moments with the more serious themes such as abuse she faced in her younger years and the demise of her marriage to Sonny merely touched upon in this fast-paced plot which doesn’t stay in a year for more than a matter of minutes. While, at times, you wish you could stop and breathe in the story, this is a necessary evil given we are talking about a story that spans from the 1950s to the 1990s.
When you think of Cher, you think about her music and The Cher Show crams in as many of her classic numbers as possible with 34 different songs getting an outing. ‘Believe’ is sung as a rousing encore as well as a beautiful stripped down version earlier in the show, ‘I Got You Babe’ is a faithful recreation of Sonny & Chers iconic performances, wonderfully performed by Millie O’Connell while ‘Heart of Stone’, ‘Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves’ and Strong Enough’ are among the other highlights. ‘You Haven’t Got The Last Of Me’ from the movie Burlesque gets the grand inclusion it deserves after its inclusion in the film was extremely underwhelming (Don’t get me started on that one), now becoming an 11 o clock anthem performed by all 3 Chers in what was, for me at least, the musical highlight of the night.
Directed by Arlene Phillips, the Broadway production has been completely revised with all new elements making this feel at times like a brand new show. The set design by Tom Rogers is gorgeous – designed to appear like the backstage of a set, it is littered with Chers costumes (hidden in bags) with endless amounts of her iconic wigs on display at either side of the stage. A brilliant and diverse use of moving props displaying the year the action is taking place is an inspired touch. While Bob Mackies costumes didn’t transfer from the Broadway production, new costumes designed by Gabrielle Slade are distinctly Cher even if they are not exact replicas. Genius lighting from Ben Cracknell gives the show a feel like you are at one of Chers concerts in a huge arena (I’ve been to a couple. This was convincing) allowing a sense of escapism, while Oti Mabuses choreography is fantastic, particularly on the bigger group numbers.
Taking a legend like Cher and telling her story in a way that befits her legacy is a hard task, but with The Cher Show they have done it with ease. Including her classic hits in a way that pushes the story forward, this is ultimately a feelgood fun and camp spectacular. It may not have as much depth as some other jukebox musicals, but sometimes all you want from the theatre is pure escapism and this more than does that. Brilliant staging, an incredible cast and vocals for days, The Cher Show really is unbelievable. I have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of this show in the UK.
The Cher Show continues its UK tour until March 2023. Full dates and tickets at https://cheronstage.com/
Photos by Pamela Raith (Photos feature Debbie Kurup as Star)