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THEATER 'The Cher Show' takes center stage
by Catey Sullivan
2018-06-20

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File this in the dreary catalogue of sentences most of us mere muggles will never be able to say: "The best conversations with Cher are the ones that happen after you've been hanging out at her house for four or five hours and she just starts meandering. Her stories are so amazing. Of course, so is her house."

Director Jason Moore, 46, continues with just the faintest glimmer of wonder. "My life right now is something 12-year-old me never could have imagined."

At present, the life of the two-time Tony nominee ( Avenue Q; Shrek the Musical ) is all but wholly consumed by shepherding The Cher Show to the stage. Opening June 28 in Chicago ( previews have started June 12 ), The Cher Show is slated to move to Broadway in November. Alongside book writer Rick Elice ( Jersey Boys, The Addams Family ) and choreographer Christopher Gattelli ( Newsies ) Moore is tackling the epic endeavor with a mix of awe, giddy enthusiasm, and theatrical savvy.

The Cher Show features 30 songs, all covered or debuted by Cher over the course of a six-decade career that includes an Oscar ( Moonstruck ), numerous Grammys and an Emmy. From 1965 pop ( "The Beat Goes On" ) to disco and beyond ( "Take Me Home" ) to an eye-popping residency in Las Vegas, Cher's powers of self-reinvention make Madonna look like a rank amateur.

Despite a score packed with the likes of "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," "Cherokee Nation," "Dark Lady" and "Believe," The Cher Show is a marked departure from the tried-and-true jukebox-musical format. Elice has crafted a book that turns Cher's life into a variety show. The songs are contextual rather than chronological.

The Cher Show leaves traditional jukes behind in other substantial ways. For example: There is no "Cher" character in the Cher Show. Instead Three women ( Stephanie J. Block, Teal Wicks and Micaela Diamond ) play Star, Lady and Babe—representations of the iconic singer and actress at various times in her life and career.

"There's no character named Cher because no one can ever be Cher," Moore said. "If you have only one name, you are a person nobody else should even try to be. There are so many sides to Cher that we know, this format helps explore them. We all have different versions of ourselves. They make up the internal monologue of all of our lives," he said.

Moore is an unlikely star in the musical theater firmament. "I'm from Fayetteville, Arkansas," he said. "Growing up, there was no musical theater there. "Variety shows—Carol Burnett, Donny and Marie, and Sonny and Cher—they were my access to musicals and sketch comedy and big, fun, outrageous costumes," Moore said.

"Donny and Marie were very wholesome, but Cher was always sarcastic and biting. I loved that. This was back when we only had three channels, so everybody was watching the same things. I always kind of felt like Cher was something everybody had in common.

"As a gay boy in the South, I was instinctively drawn to anybody who was able to be themselves fully, wholly and unapologetically. She inspired me with her authenticity. Even in the middle of a million sequins, Cher's true self shines through. That, to me, is her biggest superpower," Moore said.

"She didn't look like a lot of other stars," he added. "She had dark hair, darker skin, didn't grow up with money. She had dyslexia. Her ability to be true to herself made her someone people—especially outsiders—felt like they could connect with. And to me, connection is the heart of entertaining."

Moore has travelled to Los Angeles four times over the past year to interview Cher. She's a natural raconteur, Moore said, and deeply inquisitive about tackling yet another musical genre. Cher attended two readings and a workshop of The Cher Show, and while she's decidedly not micro-managing the production, she's deeply involved.

"She's formidable and opinionated and smart and curious and generous," Moore said. "She's totally this larger than life diva warrior, but she's also very candid and casual. She's open. She's lived basically her entire life on camera. She is who she is, all the time, off-stage or on."

Those looking for to The Cher Show for Cher's iconic looks won't be disappointed, Moore said, including anyone who wants a replay of the unforgettable Bob Mackie ensembles Cher wore to the 1984 and 1986 Oscars. Mackie is the show's costume designer.

There are some costumes and elements within the life of Cherilyn Sarkisian, 72, that didn't make it into The Cher Show. The "war bonnet" made famous in the "Half Breed" and "Cherokee Nation" era will be seen but not worn. "We've all grown more sensitive to cultural appropriation" since the 1970s, Moore noted. "Half Breed," however, shows up in the program's song listings.

Cher herself will be in town for the opening of The Cher Show—and perhaps on her way to collecting the final letter to complete the EGOT ( Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony ) status. Whether she'll show up in a custom Bob Mackie creation is anybody's guess.

For Moore, the musical has been a gift.

"For whatever reason, Cher deemed me a worthy tennis partner. And she likes playing artistic tennis. That gave me confidence.," he said. "Working with her has been rewarding in a way you hope all collaborations will be. Whether you're 12 or 40."

The Cher Show runs through Thursday, July 12, at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St. Tickets start at $33; visit CherOnBroadway.com or BroadwayInChicago.com .


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