She’s won a Grammy, Oscar, Emmy and three Golden Globe Awards. Now Cher is out to conquer Broadway, as the world-premiere musical, “The Cher Show,” based on her life and career, is about to begin its pre-New York run at Chicago’s Oriental Theatre on June 12.
The musical is blessed with an A-list of creatives including writer and Tony Award winner Rick Elice (“Jersey Boys”), director and Northwestern grad Jason Moore (“Avenue Q,” “Shrek: The Musical”), Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Gattelli (“Newsies”) and musical supervisor/orchestrator Daryl Waters (“Memphis”).
It is produced by Flody Suarez (“What’s New Pussycat”) and Tony Award winner Jeffrey Seller (“Rent,” “Avenue Q” “Private Lives”).
“Sonny and Cher were like members of our family. They [through their hit ’70s television series] made our family life more fun,” said Seller, who is also the producer of that other Tony Award-winning musical, “Hamilton” (playing a few blocks away at the CIBC Theatre), which tells the tale of, well, another iconic American.
“Who ever thought you could put Hamilton and Cher in the same sentence,” Seller said amid hearty laughter. “America would not be the same were it not for Alexander Hamilton and Cher. And that is inarguably true. … People who are tenacious often are people who change the world. Alexander Hamilton unquestionably changed the world, and I think Cher, over the past 50-plus years, has absolutely changed the world.”
The singer and actress has been very present as the show was conceived and written.
“Cher is involved in every aspect of the show,” said co-producer Flody Suarez, who approached Seller with the idea of the musical. “She’s talking to the writers, the director, she was involved in the selection of the actors. Every beat of the show is based on story she told to either Rick [Elice] or Jason [Moore].”
For Elice, bringing Cher’s life story to the stage needed to be something unlike any show he’s ever conceived.
“The whole experience felt so surreal, so surrealism was on my mind,” he said. “I spent a week with her talking about the concept and finally I said let’s do an acid-trippy variety show approach.”
The approach will indeed be “trippy” as three actresses have been tasked with portraying Cher at various points in her life. Stephanie J. Block portrays her as “Star,” Teal Wicks is “Lady” and 18-year-old newcomer Micaela Diamond is “Babe.”
“We know [Cher’s] songs as solo songs. We know her as a solo act. What would it be like if it became duos and trios? What would it be like if instead of talking to yourself, as we all do, what if I could dramatize those conversations and present them onstage?,” Elice said. “So suddenly presenting Cher as a girl group was fascinating to me as a writer. One [of the three ‘Chers’] could argue with the other two. The three of them could support each other and evolve together over the course of the show. So it’s not the cinematic solution of ‘here’s the younger, here’s the older.’ They’re all on stage at the same time together. So we see a refracted image of her personality on the stage.”
“I think the audience will really be taken aback that it’s not Babe passing the torch to Lady passing the torch to Star,” said Block, who is familiar to Chicago audiences for her portrayal of Elphaba in “Wicked.” “We liken it to a Russian nesting doll: there’s the one doll and then you open it up and there’s another one and you open that one up and there’s a third. Then you put them all together and it makes a complete Cher. That’s how this works. … The humanity that really comes through this musical is very special.”
Jarrod Spector, who starred in the Chicago company of “Jersey Boys,” steps into the role of Cher’s first husband, Sonny Bono.
“Playing Sonny is quite a trip,” Spector said. “He’s an interesting and complicated man. … You think of him as kind of a joke a little bit … with this bizarre nasal voice. .. But he loved her so deeply in the best way he knew how. His talent was vastly underrated and his comic timing was vastly underrated. His delivery was impeccable. He wrote more songs than people realize. He wrote ‘I Got You Babe.’ He wrote ‘The Beat Goes On.’ I know his voice is nasal and funny but it’s unique, iconic and cool.”
The cast also stars Michael Berresse as the legendary fashion designer Bob Mackie, who has outfitted his lifelong friend Cher in all those unforgettable gowns both on television and on tour, and who has designed the mountains of costumes for the musical. Micheal Campayno stars as Cher’s young boyfriend Rob Camilletti, and Matthew Hydzik stars as Cher’s second husband, singer Gregg Allman.
“The Cher Show” runs through July 15 at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph. For tickets, visit broadwayinchicago.com. It is slated to open on Broadway in November. We’ll have more on “The Cher Show” in the coming weeks, including a review of the June 28 opening night.