In this cross between biopic and jukebox musical, written by Rick Elice, the spotlight falls on Cherilyn Sarkisian, better known as Cher – or, to be more specific, three versions of her.
With a framing device at the start and finish of a 50-something Cher waiting to go on TV, we follow her story from pre-teen dream to larger-than-life pop goddess.
Millie O’Connell, Danielle Steers, and Debbie Kurup are our divas: often on stage together, watching or actively commenting on the action.
Their vocal abilities are stellar through the thirty-odd songs, which cleverly pepper the show and enhance the plot, under the guardianship of musical director Danny Belton.
The Cher Show rips through the moments that made the legend. Young Cher (a delightful O’Connell) falls in love with Disney’s Cinderella, then Sonny Bono at just 16, shaping her rise to stardom through the next eleven years.
Lucas Rush, playing Sonny, has the mannerisms and the voice, and puts across the change in him as he prioritises money, control, and fame before family happiness.
With O’Connell’s wide-eyed innocence giving way to Steers’s deep sadness at the failure of her marriage and steely frustration with her career, this section starts cute and gains great power by the time the trio end the act.
Design-wise, the eye-popping colours of the 1960s and hippy charm of the early 1970s are conjured up with inventive staging (director Arlene Phillips, set design Tom Rogers, costumes Gabriella Slade) and a lively ensemble of dancers choreographed by Oti Mabuse.
Framed by a studio set and a towering display of wigs and costume bags, there is a real sense of the changing face of Cher (known of course for her many surgical procedures to stay beautiful).
Although this is undoubtedly a showcase for the three leads, with a special nod to Kurup who carries the second half’s emotional heft including second marriage to drug abusing rocker Gregg Allman, there is much to enjoy elsewhere.
Fashion maestro Bob Mackie is given a larger-than-life waspish charm, and great vocals, by Jake Mitchell, while Sam Ferriday handles the remaining male featured roles including Allman (with ‘Just Like Jesse James’ becoming a powerful duet for him and Kurup’s Cher).
In the same vein as Tina and Beautiful, this portrays its subject as a survivor, however imperfect. With Tori Scott as much married mother Georgia Holt, you can see the apple never fell far, and it is perhaps fitting she has the last word.
In the tradition of most jukebox titles, you have the obligatory ‘get up and dance’ finale, too, and everyone goes home happy with their ability to ‘Turn Back Time’.
You can enjoy The Cher Show on its latest stop at New Wimbledon Theatre until 4 Feb, and then it continues its tour into March: tickets here.
Image credit: Pamela Raith
Watch my video of the show finale on YouTube.