The Cher Show at TPAC

On the freezing nights of January 19th and 20th, 2024, and despite its own frigid theater, TPAC managed to warm up Nashville with a delightful production of The Cher Show, a multi-Tony Award-winning jukebox musical detailing Cher’s long and remarkably prodigious career.

Left to Right: “Lady,” Catherine Ariale, “Star” Morgan Scott, “Babe” Ella Perez

Generally, the problem with the jukebox musical is the narrative–how to string many songs (in this case over 25) into some kind of story for an evening that makes sense and isn’t forced. However, here it works quite well because Cher’s career, from Phil Spector to Moonlight, from early television to autotune, from Sonny Bono to Rob “Bagel Boy” Camilletti, is as diverse, if not more so, than her huge catalogue of songs. As is typical of musical biographies, her life is split into three stages—youth “Babe”, adult “Lady” and legacy “Star”, and the musical quite innovatively has these three stages appear as characters on stage.

Representing Cher in her youth (late teens through 20s) “Babe” Ella Perez performed quite well, balancing the young artist’s drive and idealism with her naiveté. Her duets with Sonny Bono (Lorenzo Pugliese) wonderfully expressed the sweet electricity and tension in their relationship (which you can still sense in the old youtube videos). As Cher the “Lady,” Catherine Ariale brought the confidence of Cher’s success, and made for a very relatable character in the face of her frustrations and setbacks. Morgan Scott’s “Star” embodied the woman in an amazing fashion. While all three sang in her incredible contralto range (the lowest female vocal range, overlapping a tenor), Scott’s diction was a magical interpretation of Cher’s singular, affected accent. She danced and walked with that lithe, paced gate and remarkable poise in nearly every ridiculous costume imaginable. And the costumes, oh the costumes!

They were sexy, flamboyant and as outrageous as Cher’s costumes were in real life. This is largely because the company hired Bob Mackie to design the costumes—Cher’s actual costume designer since the 60s. Further, Antoinette Dipietropolo’s sharp choreography contributed to an evening that, by the finale, had the audience dancing so exuberantly in their seats that security felt the need to come down the aisles and glare. The only real difficulty I found in the staging was Gregg Allman’s scene, which was a little more country western than he, his music, or his band ever were—it was more a New York Broadway clichéd 50s Nashville than 70s era Southern Rock from Atlanta.

Oh, Bob Mackie’s Costumes!

Rick Elice’s book is also to be commended. Her three primary lovers caricatured in the musical, Sonny Bono, Greg Allman, and Rob Camilletti are not blamed so much as complicated. Her nostalgia for Sonny Bono and the moment she mentions his death is heartrending, even as there is frank discussion of their monetary disputes and silly comedy. Greg Allman (played by a suave Mike Bindeman) reflects his character’s notorious womanizing and flightiness even as it is contrasted with his love for her and their son. Camilletti’s (Charles Blaha) frustrated violence is contrasted with his loyalty. The depictions add up to a life and history of relationships that are balanced between the good and the bad, the nostalgia, fondness and regret. This is all to say that it feels, dare I say, authentic.

This certainly isn’t to say that there isn’t some historical revisioning happening. “Half-Breed,” Cher’s anthem to the native American population, is repositioned in the musical as her proclaiming her “half-breed” Armenian ancestry. It is hard to believe this given the existing video of her singing the song in native headdress, and the lyrics: “My father married a pure Cherokee.” This was a time when it was cool to claim Native American heritage, but it simply didn’t age nearly as well as she has.

In a related way, because so much of the musical is about her relationships, one gets the feeling that the musical wouldn’t pass any application of the Bechdel test. Even when she is alone with Lucielle Ball, the dialogue is about Sonny, and indirectly about Desi Arnaz. In a world dominated by men, Cher rose to stardom; it is this fact that makes her career so powerful and this musical so inspiring, even as it is entertaining, fun and glamourous. As a feminist call, her career too, perhaps hasn’t aged well, but as a story, it’s beautiful. The Cher Show’s run in Nashville is over, unfortunately, but if you don’t mind a bit of a drive, you can still catch it in Lexington, KY January 26-28th.


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