Music as performed by Cher
Book by Rick Elise
Directed by Arlene Phillips
Hooooooo boy, here we go. It should come as no surprise that in the pantheon of Jukebox musicals, some industry giants have carved their names onto the stage once more. But there was one notable absence. The tale of a young and awkward, but determined, woman from El Centro, California who would rise to become one of the most indomitable figureheads of women in a male-dominated industry. And after her many, many…many years in the business, Cherilyn Sarkisian saw fit to remind this world just who really, truly, runs it; it’s just one big Cher Show.
So how do you embody the sass and resolve of a global legend, diva, and icon into just one person? Well, you don’t: you get three. One of the more genius decisions, and lucrative to maintain audiences, is the mix-up of Cher’s greatest and most recognisable hits. Audiences have no idea what may come next, as flickering moments of Bang Bang or Believe might slowly build, only to be dashed away for another time. It heightens the tension; it keeps the room hungry for more. It also enables the three Chers, performed by Debbie Kurup, Danielle Steers, and Millie O’Connell the opportunity to stretch outside of their individual ‘eras’.
Segmenting the ‘eras’ of Cher into three separate performers enables the production the luxury of characterisation short-cuts, and a more (and shockingly) clever variation of performance and staging. And fret not, Tom Roger’s monochromatic monolithic set shrine to Cher’s various costumes and wigs belays a wealth of colour through Ben Cracknell’s lighting design. Suddenly those flash warnings are understood, and the walls of stage signs and black & white wigs are flushed with the campest lighting the Festival Theatre has seen since, well, The Osmonds. But sat in the darkness after the opening dance number is Cher, well, one of them – Debbie Kurup as ‘Star’.
Jaded, contemplative, and sipping on a Dr Pepper – Kurup has an immediate presence as the larger-than-life star. Embodying the role with ease, Kurup may not have the stature of the Pop Goddess – but she fills those boots with ease, commanding the room and her two younger selves Lady and Babe as she takes a whistlestop tour through the choices and losses leading to this moment.
Those familiar with O’Connell’s previous Edinburgh smash-hit, a little-known concert musical by the name of Six, will recognise her brand of humour and distinct personality. Indeed, an aspect which shines through is the individual aspects of each Cher. But also, the unique performers who do a sterling job of imitating Cher’s vocals, without losing their distinct trademarks of delivery. And O’Connell nails the gawkish, awkwardness of sixteen-year-old ‘Babe’ – fresh-eyed and taken in by the world, her physicality infectiously delightful. Vocally, the infamous warble is the most caricaturist, a Cher finding and controlling her voice, but where O’Connell wants to belt – particularly for a rousing rendition of Women’s World, and oh how she shines.
Where the awkward comedy and charm of O’Connell give us a naïve and youthful Cher, and Kurup pushes the more grounded if concerned Businesswoman she will come to be – Danielle Steers has the monumental task of traversing the two; a performer lost in the world but determined to make an impact. And by Jove, where the others may capture the performance and spirit of the role, Steers captures the voice. There isn’t a question of the sheer talent and impressive vocals, as Steers takes on the most arduous aspect of the transition away from Sonny & Cher. She absolutely nails the emotional tension, driving it into her performances of Bang Bang with a steely reserve.
And stepping into the *ahem*short*ahem* shoes of Sonny Bono, Resident Director Guy Woolf puffs his chest and breaths in the role, making up for any shortcomings one may have feared. Sonny’s fleshed-out role is one of the more surprising aspects in Rick Elise’s book, which manages to cover a sizable chunk of Cher’s career without making it feel too self-aggrandising. It is Cher though, so a little is forgiven for the parts which are wholly self-indulgent. Oti Mabuse’s choreography is practical, but the focus seems to have been instilled with the three leads – resulting in ensemble dance numbers which aren’t as tight as they ought to be, resulting in the production losing out on a rather perfect performance.
Jukebox musicals are gaudy. They’re tacky and cheerful and non-apologetic about it. They’re entertaining and just that little bit obnoxious. The Cher Show is precisely what it wants to be, and oh so much more – bringing a much-welcomed sense of humour and understanding of what audiences want. This is how you do the genre. Mabuse and Phillips have captured, in essence, the uncapturable in manifesting Cher’s personality and musical history onstage. And where it may have issues with pacing, and perhaps (dare we say) a number too many; at the end of it all – it’s Cher bitch, and this is the best night out you’ll have in the city.
The Best Night Out You’ll Have
The Cher Show runs at the Festival Theatre until October 15th.
Tickets for which may be obtained here.