Decades of pop hits, classic costumes and instantly memorable quotes (“Mom, I am a rich man”) have given Cher a place in the pop culture pantheon, alongside her undeniable queer icon status. In recent years, Cher has shown her continued relevance and ability to shape shift- a turn in the Mammia Mia sequel, a high fashion photoshoot with Naomi Campbell and Kim Kardashian for CR Fashion Book and even a recent splashy MAC campaign with rapper Saweetie all show Cher’s sticking power across generations.
How best then to capture the legacy of an icon? In 2022, a stage musical seems fitting. And the trick to bringing Cher to life on stage? Cast three performers of course! Which brings us to The Cher Show, a spectacular new musical that tells the incredible life story of the diva herself while dipping into that extensive back catalogue.
Camp, lights, music, club anthems, pop anthems...you’re literally gonna have everything...
The Cher Show is on a tour of the UK before coming to Irish audiences at Dublin’s Bord Gais Energy Theatre from July 19 to 30. Three West End superstars are in the spotlight as different generations of Cher. Millie O’Connell, plays Babe who represents the Cher of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Danielle Steers plays Lady who is ‘70s Cher, while Debbie Kurup tackles Cher in her final form as Star during the ‘80s and ‘90s. The trio play different eras of Cher but interact throughout the show trading life advice, jokes and, of course, a song or two.
The book is written by Tony-award-winning scribe Rick Elise who penned the classic Jersey Boys. And for this tour of the UK and Ireland the show is directed by the legendary Arlene Philips, acclaimed choreographer and former Strictly Come Dancing judge. And speaking of Strictly, the choreography is in the safe hands of double winner Oti Mabuse. It’s a reimagined take on the show which hit Broadway in 2019.
We got a chance to catch this run of the show during a recent performance in Belfast. Granted a backstage tour we got up close with the spectacular costumes that pay tribute to everything from the Bob Mackie glamour to the rock and roll spirit of ‘80s Cher and took in the impressively designed set as the cast showed us around.
But what about the task of stepping into Cher’s shoes? The cast members seem up for the challenge. Danielle Steers told us as she walked us through costumes on set, “We have to have one mind, we are playing the same person” with her co-star Debbie Kurrup saying, “We’ve really got each other’s backs”.
Debbie notes that Arlene Philips is “the perfect person to direct this show” as she “has such a wealth of experience” and that the show “does have a sense of female empowerment”.
Millie O’Connell, who plays the younger version of Cher in the show, reflected on why the artist is still so relevant to younger audiences. “She was literally so ahead of her time,” adding “She just went ‘This is what I’m doing, this is what I believe in and I’m going to project that and use my platform’ and now in our generation that’s what we do, we can speak out, we’re not getting gas-lit by men.”
All three performers do a truly stellar job at channelling the iconic diva from her signature Cher speaking voice to singing her biggest hits. But how do you nail being Cher?
“The secret to being Cher is understanding why she has her mannerisms. Not just doing them.. you have to understand why,” Millie tells me, adding that she has researched “everything about what she does, the way her mouth moves, why her voice sounds like that, why she licks her lips.”
The Cher Show opens on a soundstage where the three Chers travel through her life story with clever transitions and a non-linear dip into her back catalogue (A 2000’s hit soundtracks a key moment for ‘70s Cher for example) to bring a vulnerability and heart to the star who is often painted as larger than life and nothing more.
“You’re gonna be taken on a journey. Whatever you think you’re about to watch, I’m telling you it will blow you away even further because it is deep, it is dark, it’s emotional,” Millie says of the show, noting “It’s powerful for a woman to be able to fight so much of her life and put it on display for other women.”
Millie assures us: “You will go on a journey but you will also have on the flip side, camp, lights, music, club anthems, pop anthems... you’re literally gonna have everything.”
Watching the show later that evening it was hard to disagree with her assessment. Yes, The Cher Show is a jukebox musical, a mashup of pop hits and musical theatre that is often dismissed by critics, but trust a show about a pop pioneer to buck the formula.
The Cher Show plays with the nudge-nudge wink wink trappings we love about Cher but embraces the emotional side too. Whether it’s realising how naïve and nervous she was at the start of her career to how health issues derailed a promising film career, the show underlines the struggle while finding plenty of time to embrace the joy.
The three Chers are brought to life brilliantly by the leads. Close your eyes and the diva herself could be in the room singing and talking to you. And with Bob Mackie an actual character in the show it’s no surprise the costuming is a treat too.
A story of grit, survival, big hair and even bigger tunes, The Cher Show is a campy and clever gem, much like the woman herself.