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BWW Review: THE CHER SHOW at Ogunquit Playhouse

Review: THE CHER SHOW at Ogunquit Playhouse

Playing at the Ogunquit Playhouse


Imagine yourself going to a concert by performing legend, Cher. Then imagine that she spends the evening telling you about her life story through the difficulties of a struggling career to the transformation that made her an entertainment powerhouse. And she's not aloof on center stage. Throughout the evening she's talking directly to you, the audience. The banter is delectable.

And, of course, she sings her signature tunes, "Half Breed," "Believe," "I Got You Babe," and "The Way of Love," among many others.

What could be better than that?

How about three Chers on stage at once, each portraying a different time in that life story.

That is what you get at The Cher Show, written by Rick Elice who also scripted the popular Jersey Boys. The musical opens the Ogunquit Playhouse's 90th anniversary year.

The show is a biopic of Cherilyn Sarkisian (aka Cher) born in El Centro, California in 1946. Leading the production are three characters. There's Star, the mature Cher (Sara Gettelfinger), Lady, the mid-career Cher, (Charissa Hogeland) and Babe, portraying the youngest years (Madeline Hudelson.) The threesome interacts at distinct points in Star's evolution offering a series of comic and poignant moments filled with advice and encouragement that sometimes slips into girlish slumber party talk. The concept works wonderfully, and in the hands of these talented ladies, it offers an engaging and entertaining evening of storytelling and music.

The show begins with Star singing the reflective ballad "If You Could Turn Back Time," and then it proceeds to do just that. The story looks back at a young, shy, and awkward 16-year-old Cher who professes her goal to be a singer followed by a glimpse of her early career, leading to her time under the tutelage and eventual marriage and divorce from Sonny Bono (played extraordinarily by Dino Nicandros).

The story proceeds through the success and failure of television's The Sonny and Cher Show, the nine-day marriage to rocker, Greg Allman (Matthew Hydzik), and Cher's stint as an infomercial huckster.

The evening ends on a high note as it follows Cher's jaunt to the Broadway stage, debut on the silver screen, and her winning the Oscar for best actress in the film, Moonstruck. And of course, there's her concert tours that brought her worldwide success.

And beyond the storytelling, there's a variety of Cher solos and Cher ensemble numbers masterfully performed by Gettlefinger, Hogeland, and Hudelson. The trio look a little bit like Cher in their portrayals, but their real success is in capturing her vocal stylings and the essence of the entertainer. Each of these ladies is star quality with a slew of Broadway credits. They could not be more perfectly cast in their roles.

Much to my delight, the show isn't a textbook jukebox musical featuring only songs written by Sonny Bono or performed by Sonny and Cher. It features an array of hits that guide the audience through the 60s, 70s and beyond. The musical numbers are far better than your favorite oldies radio station.

The supporting cast is solid with the likes of Angie Schworer as Cher's mother, Georgia Holt, and as Lucille Ball in an actual conversation that took place between Cher and the comic legend. Nicandros' portrayal of Sonny Bono is spot on with his short stature (Bono made a career of short guy jokes) but most convincing in his Bono like vocals.

A show about Cher's life would never be complete without a glimpse of Bob Mackie's influence as her clothes designer. Mackie spent a major part of his career costuming Cher for television and concerts. His designs are featured in The Cher Show highlighting the glamourous, stylish, and outrageous pieces that has made Cher a fashion icon. Mackie earned a Tony Award for his original costume designs.

And speaking of costumes, the show's ensemble, a troupe of beauties and buff bodies, do justice to Jane Lanier's choreography as they strut their stuff through a monumental number of costume changes. Don't bother to keep count of the changes because you'll lose track incredibly early in the first act. It would be great to see the dresser's backstage frenzy.

Music Director, Kristin Stowell, makes each musical number powerful, but not overwhelming. Director, Gerry McIntyre, knows how to hit the humor as much as the drama in the show.

Cher's story is an engaging one that keeps the audience attention. There's a bit of rooting for the underdog that takes place as the show depicts Cher's self determination to succeed and her feminist spirit to stop letting men tell her what to do. (An amazing fact revealed in the show is that Sonny Bono owned 95% of the corporate entity that was Cher and that an attorney owned the other 5%.) The rendition of "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me" performed by the three Cher characters was an emotionally charged anthem of Cher's empowered resilience. Their showstopping standing ovation was a great cap to a great show.

This year's Ogunquit Playhouse season has moved back into the historic theater building after last summer's foray in an outdoor pavilion. They kindly ask patrons to "mask up" to keep others safe, especially the performers who face a grueling multi-week performing schedule.

The playhouse season continues with world premiere productions of The Nutty Professor and Mr. Holland's Opus. A non-musical, Clue finishes the season.

Photo credit: Nile Hawver


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