There is a fine line between cheesy and spectacular. In making costumes for Cher over the years – costumes that often tell the story of a shy woman triumphantly emerging from a doll – designer Bob Mackie has kept to the right of the line by making sure that the craft level is the extravagance of the Gesture.
Unfortunately, this is not the case with "The Cher Show," the irritating mish-mash of a new musical that opened on Monday at the Neil Simon Theater. Apart from the dozens of stunning outfits that Mr. Mackie has beautifully recreated for the occasion, all this is a gesture, not a craft: dramatically worn and surprisingly unremarkable.
Rather, their energy lies in solving the mystery of their own concept, of which strange tracks are left after a tryout in Chicago. The plan was to explore Cher's life in the form of a television program in which she played between 1971 and 1977 with or without her first husband Sonny Bono.
That does not sound like a bad idea to me, but there's no way to know. As it stands, you can not distinguish scenes that are supposed to borrow comedy-hour elements from those that you think are vicious. Cher's difficult marriage to Nashville-born rock musician Gregg Allman is littered with a ridiculous salon sketch infused with bad jokes. Cher to Allman: "Are you from Tennessee, because you're the only one I see."
And the background story is treated with the sophistication of a backhoe loader. You can almost hear a groan on the laugh track when Cher asks Sonny's ghost later in the show, "Are you really dead?"
To complicate the matter, the decision to put such an unconventional character as Cher in the straitjacket of the kennel is biographical jukebox musical – especially the tripartite diva subgenus, recently released by "Summer: The Donna Summer Musical "Was screwed up. We do not have to rehearse the traps of the genre except that "The Cher Show" falls into all of them. It takes so much time to position its biographical bullet points and tunestack despite logic or chronology, so it never seems to notice the incomprehensible result.
[ What's new on the stage and from: Sign up for our Theater Update Newsletter]
Anyway, this gag is subtractive for three ages of the woman and not additive unless You are Edward Albee. With a kaleidoscope of Cher avatars named Babe, Lady, and Star, author Rick Elice, who also wrote "Jersey Boys," creates three one-note characters from a possibly rich one-off piece. Babe, Cher's darling in her teenage and early twenties (Micaela Diamond), and Lady, the "smart-mouth" Cher of the next few years (Teal Wicks), are particularly flat, as is usually the case with innocents crushed by forces they do not yet understand.
Only with Star – the "bad ass", the mature Cher – we get a figure that rewards our attention. She also rewards the efforts of beautiful singing actress Stephanie J. Block; As soon as Ms. Block takes power, it feels as if Star Babe and Lady have completely swallowed. Not only can she unite Cher's vocal flexions and physical behaviors, including the half-mast eyes, the arm-Akimbo, and the hair-dancing skinning class, but she somehow integrates them into a portrait of a woman in conflict with the woman Dream she was supported by.
The dream was of course a star, and "The Cher Show" does not seem to know what he thinks about it. The little Cherilyn Sarkisian, who grew up poor, broken and painfully shy, still clinging to her mother's mantra, "The song will make you strong." We do not see any evidence for that, especially in the years when Sonny, most of her songs , has written annoying pipsqueak that she also cuts out of the possession of mutual efforts.
The efforts of husbands, directors, and network managers to control and benefit from Cher are a powerful and timely subject that keeps revisiting the book or jokes the book (it's perhaps worth noting that Cher one of the show's over-the-title producers.) Although Jarrod Spector's sonny's Napoleon Complex is just right, he also gives him an adenoid horn that's so over the top that it's cute and harmless.
Nevertheless, the book secures. "Are we making Sonny too terrible?" Babe asks. "I do not want that."
Why not? Must a musical intended for popular consumption destroy the rage of its powerful theme while dispelling its most interesting problems? A scene in which Cher, the dyslexic, strives to read an audition script for a Broadway play, is well treated by Ms. Block, but ignores the fact that the resulting production was a notorious flop.
At least the musical numbers are cheerfully staged; Director Jason Moore and choreographer Christopher Gattelli make sure that the super-buff ensemble swirls on sparkling pop-pastel sets under bright light. The songs are beautifully arranged by Daryl Waters and sung better by the three main women (and by Emily Skinner in the thankless role of Cher's mother) than Cher. In any case, they will certainly satisfy die-hard fans.
For occasional admirers, however, they will be rather puzzling, as they only have the fictional connection to history. Cher's 1989 comeback hit, "If I could turn back time," the opening is taken as the title alone; Her entire film career is in a version of "The Beat Goes On" with new lyrics like "There's Mike Nichols at the door!"
Here the jukebox problem and the star splitting problem converge with the craft problem. With too many character sheets and agendas for the ministry – three chords, multiple careers, 35 songs, or parts of it – the creators of the show can not perform well.
And yet, despite its total modesty, "The Cher Show" is not as uncomfortable as slimmer jukebox musicals that glorify thugs or put the audience to ashes. Yes, it's way too hard for Cher's meaning – a meaning that would be better if you just accept and then make it complicated. And yes, it just gets weepy when you want it to get heavy.
But it is not cynical. There are even moments when, like Cher himself, it is strong enough to annoy his own conventions. At one point, Star, Babe and Lady crow: "It's so much easier to talk to myself when I'm all here." So magnificently dressed, a self-dividing Biomusical can not exist.