the cher show review

Review: The Cher Show, New Wimbledon Theatre

Review: The Cher Show, New Wimbledon Theatre

Jenny Booth reviews: “clearly a cult show for some, and a genial evening’s entertainment for everyone else.”


Where do you start with describing Cher, the serene, chameleon queen of pop? With her arresting self-reinventions – from the tattoos, decades before it was trendy, to all that plastic surgery (it was rumoured she had her lower ribs removed to make her waist smaller)? With her see-through clothes and her affairs with Hollywood legends; or the way she was on TV constantly through the 1970s and in films through the 1980s and 1990s? Maybe her political activism and social advocacy; or her role as a gay icon and as an haute couture legend, or her shoot-from-the-lip Twitter account? Or the way Bjorn from Abba said after Mamma Mia 2 that Fernando was her song now? It’s hard to forget the farewell tours that started in 2002 and may very well still be going on now; or the 20 Hollywood movies, and the 28 studio albums with more than 100 million copies sold worldwide. For six decades Cher has been out in front as a social and cultural pioneer, an uber-Kardassian only with talent and a heart.

All of which makes it seem odd that The Cher Show, the musical about Cherilyn Sarkisian which reaches New Wimbledon Theatre this week, features little of the above. Instead, it presents her life as essentially a survival story. Much of the first act focuses on her early years, portraying her as a shy, vulnerable girl struggling with dyslexia, stage-fright and low self-esteem. After she breaks free from the coercive control of her lover Sonny Bono (expertly played by Lucas Rush), the second act sees her heart broken repeatedly by unreliable boyfriends, leaving her emotionally in pieces, physically ill, reduced to flogging hairspray in infomercials and wondering aloud whether she has the courage to perform. Hello? Are we talking about the same person? Or has the show’s writer Rick Elice crafted yet another mask for the elusive Cher, whose story fits with a particular audience demographic?

Conveying this unfamiliar version of Cher are no fewer than three actresses. Millie O’Connell portrays a hair-flicking, eye-rolling, goofy teenage Cher under Sonny’s thumb; Danielle Steers is the breakthrough star punching out defiant power-ballads (her loyal fans in the audience were particularly vocal); while Debbie Kurup channels a vulnerable, womanly Cher radiant in the face of adversity. Elice places all three on stage on the same time, observing and comparing views, supplying what an older or younger self would make of things. This unusual stage ploy took some getting used to, before the triple image could slide together into one person. All three have excellent voices and it was when they performed together in big numbers like ‘Life After Love’ that they finally melded. Scenes are kept short and perfunctory, so that all the other characters appear minor by comparison. Sam Ferriday impressed by giving utterly distinct characters to four different parts, from dopehead rocker Greg Allman to dictatorial producer Phil Spector. Tori Scott’s soaring voice and brisk manner were convincing as Cher’s mother, and Jake Mitchell gave a snappy camp cameo as Bob Mackie.

With direction from Arlene Phillips and choreography from Oti Mabuse the movement and dance by the ensemble were exciting to watch. Gabriella Slade’s sequin-encrusted costumes were comparatively tasteful by the real Cher’s standards. There were two technical issues of note: Ben Cracknell’s lighting designs were uncomfortably bright and pulsing during the big numbers, and on Tuesday night the sound desk broke down during the Act 1 finale, forcing the show to be halted for half an hour. The production team sensibly began the interval early, and once the problems were resolved simply continued the show from where it had left off to the end. The Cher Show is clearly a cult show for some, and a genial evening’s entertainment for everyone else. It includes a parade of well-known hit songs given the maximalist treatment. And you’ll certainly come away having seen a different side of Cher.

New Wimbledon Theatre, until 4 Feb

Image: Pamela Raith Photography