The Cher Show – Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Book: Rick Elice

Director: Arlene Phillips

The stage bursts into glorious camp life as an ensemble of triple-threat performers pops and twirls, ready for Cher’s big entrance. But where is Cher? She’s having a crisis of confidence backstage. To try to get her mojo back, she turns back time and so starts a whistle-stop tour of her life.

Cher has reinvented herself multiple times, so it’s no surprise that three actors take on the role for different periods of her life: Millie O’Connell brings us the young Cher in all her teenage awkward angularity; Danielle Steers brings us the more confident Cher who builds on her successes; and Debbie Kurup is the older, slightly more introspective Cher. What isn’t typical, however, is that these three perform throughout the show, interacting with each other, giving some commentary and even advice to their other incarnations. And, of course, all three can switch on the deep power of Cher’s vocals.

As the story progresses, we see Cher grow from a shy bullied teen into major pop and film star. Her moves into relationships that were not always entirely healthy, new musical categories and stage and screen acting are shown as time goes on. And it’s quite the rollercoaster ride with huge highs and intensive work periods that impact her family life with her children.

O’Connell expertly brings us the shy, even introverted, teenage Cher. We see her nurtured by her mother, Georgia (Tori Scott) with a sweet powerful voice and a ready line in homilies. Georgia, too, returns from time to time to help ground the developing Cher. And, of course, she meets Sonny (played at this performance by Guy Woolf). Sonny is an ever-present in the younger Cher’s life dazzling her. And O’Connell’s Cher is indeed dazzled as she first tastes success with him. Woolf shows us the caring side of Sonny even as the pressures get to them and drive them apart – not helped by some rather dodgy financials.

In Steers we see Cher’s growing confidence as she starts to question everything, becoming ever more streetwise and sassy. When divorced from Sonny, Steers shows us the hardworking Cher, as well as one frustrated with the lack of balance in her life. No wonder her later choices of husband fail to work out. Kurup brings us the developing Cher who moves into acting as well as singing and finds herself forced into some pragmatic decisions as her star rises and falls. Kurup is every inch the diva, feeling like the real deal as she belts out the songs.

There’s hit after hit after hit, each one choreographed by Oti Mabuse and outrageously camp. Maybe sometimes the footwork could be sharper in some of the more frenetic sequences but that hardly matters. Director Arlene Phillips ensures that the pace never drops although the short individual scenes taking us forward in time mean that some characters and their motivations are more superficial. Cher’s signature style grew ever more outrageous, and costume designer Gabriella Slade has taken this on board with positive glee. The ensemble is bedecked in leather sailor suits covered in rhinestones, while the Chers wear a variety of outfits suitable to their times as well as apparently bondage-inspired leather numbers. It’s all magnificently OTT – in keeping with the lady’s own image, of course.

All too soon it’s over with the now seemingly mandatory sing-and-dance-along finale that has the audience on its feet. It’s feel-good stuff, leaving you grinning and humming the songs as you head out of the theatre.

Runs Until 22 October 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Gloriously Camp

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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