Playwright: Rick Elice ( book ), Lyricist: Daryl Waters ( orchestrations, arrangements, musical supervision )
At: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St. Tickets: BroadwayInChicago.com; $35-$115 . Runs through: July 28
For many of us of a certain age, Sonny and Cher's 1967 hit "The Beat Goes On" was a formative experience: A piece of pop culture that provided an ethos to live by and an unforgettable sound. You could say the same about Cher herself.
Nobodywith all due respect to Chad Michaelscan fully embody Cher, nee Cherilyn Sarkisian. But the Broadway-bound The Cher Show ( book by Rick Elice, directed by Jason Moore, musical arrangements by Daryl Waters ) is an eye-popping ode to the Oscar/Grammy/Emmy-winning iconoclast.
With close to three dozen songs packed into the score, it's inevitable ( if frustrating ) that the likes of "Dark Lady" and "Half Breed" are abridged; ditto Cher's epic journey from bullied schoolchild to global brand. Still, The Cher Show captures the unapologetic Cher-ness of the title character's persona, showing how she repeatedly broke the mold for leading ladies.
Starting out with young Cher tricycling to her mother after being called a "half-breed" at school and ending with a Vegas-worthy rendition of "Believe," The Cher Show is slavishly entertaining. And thanks to costume designer Bob Mackie ( yes, that Bob Mackie ), Cher's iconic looks are jaw-dropping. That 1986 Oscar frock is replicated with fantabulous detail. So are the various "naked dress" gowns that Cher pioneered generations before Sex and the City slapped them on on bus ads.
Elice hasn't yet found a solid dramatic arc for The Cher Show. She was a star by 21. Her post-stardom valleys and troughs are somewhat glossed overbut, then again, that gloss is pretty spectacular.
The show belongs to three Ages of Cher, embodied by Stephanie J. Block ( as Star, or present-day Cher ); Teal Wicks ( Lady, mid-career Cher ) and Micaela Diamond ( Babe, early Cher ). All three interact, providing retrospective insight while highlighting the highs and lows of Cher's half-century-plus long career. Babe is the wide-eyed, unstoppable kid with dreams. Lady is a woman in command of her powers. And Star is a woman in full, showing the planet how to werk before "werk" was even a thing.
Setting the show within the framework of a variety show is a smart move. Cher entered the nation's living rooms in 1971 with The Sonny and Cher Comedy Show. She was decidedly not our parents' variety-show host. Dinah Shore who? Andy Williams what? If you can recall Elton John and Cher burning through the small screen with "Bennie and the Jets," you can probably summon some irrational exuberance just by unlocking the memory.
Under Moore's direction, the Chers deliver her signature sarcasm, take-no-shit assertiveness, razor-sharp intelligence and iconic hair flipsas well as her struggle to be taken seriously as an actor and business woman. Her fraught relationship with Sonny ( Jarrod Spector ) sours whenas Cher points outshe's left with only a car to show after over a decade under Sonny's Bonaparte-esque micromanagement.
The complexity of Cher's relationship with a man who loved her and wanted to control her is apparent. So is her flat-out refusal to be controlled.
All three Chers have powerhouse voices, and capture the deep alto belt that flew in the face of the conventional blonde soprano stars who preceded Cher. The music is pure catnip, as is Christopher Gattelli's choreography. In "Dark Lady," we get a number so kinetically dazzling you'll be irked if you blink.
The show's strengths are fourfold: Its music, costumes, choreography and its allegiance to Cher. Kudos to wig designer Charles G. LaPointe for nailing the star's evolving locks. Christine Jones and Brett J. Banakis' scenic design evokes of the TV variety show that provides the story's framework.
The Cher Show hasn't figured out how to deal with those Native American war bonnets Cher favored in her earlier years, long before the ills of cultural appropriation were even widely acknowledged. And Elice's book needs a more substantial dramatic arc. Allman's drug abuse, Sonny's manipulation are noted and dispensed with in short order. Cher fans probably won't care. And everybody else will probably be carried away by the sheer, joyful force of the spectacle.