The Song Makes You Strong: On Loving and Saying Goodbye to “The Cher Show”

I am no stranger to seeing Broadway shows more than once. It’s an indulgence, I know, and perhaps an insensitive one to boast about, given that the cost of theater tickets is prohibitive for so many people, but I can’t help it. I believe whole-heartedly in hedonism.

Growing up, I was obsessed with theater, but had very little access to it. Aside from a touring production of Grease that my Mom took me to when I was eight, I don’t think I saw a play or musical performed live until I was in high school, and even then it was only a few small local productions (which, not knowing any better, I LOVED). My high school didn’t have a drama program, so I never had the chance to perform (all the better in retrospect, because I am not a gifted actor and certainly not a gifted singer) but I desperately, desperately wanted to. By the time I got to college, however, I’d missed the window of opportunity. I was a triple major working two jobs to put myself through school, and became involved pretty quickly with several other demanding extracurriculars, so I just didn’t have the time and (see above) definitely didn’t have the talent to compete for roles against the many precocious theater majors who I knew would be auditioning for them. But, I began seeing a lot of theater, both at school and beyond, and realized just how starved for it I had been.

Since then, my interest in and affection for theater has only grown and expanded, and the proximity to the stages of Broadway was not an insignificant factor in my decision to move to New York after school. I consider myself fortunate to have a lot of passions in life–film, travel, literature. But theater is high on that list. There is a kind of energy and connection inherent in the theatrical experience that no other means of storytelling can replicate. So when I see a show that I love, that I really love, I often go back for a second dose of whatever it was it gave me the first time. It has become so easy recently, and in many cases, so tempting, to allow ourselves to become fully desensitized and numb to the world around us, and what is happening in it. I understand the appeal of that, but I renounce it. To me, that is death. I don’t ever want to stop feeling things, even the worst things, for one second, and I don’t ever want to be afraid of feeling. It’s not always easy, and it’s definitely exhausting, to live that way, but I want to feel as much as I can, as often as I can. And certain shows just make me feel things I want to experience again and again.

Specifically, I’ve seen Wicked and Chicago three times each, and Waitress four times. I also saw Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard four times, and Bette Midler/Bernadette Peters in Hello, Dolly! a collective five times (Bette once, Bernadette four times).

The newest addition to this illustrious list is The Cher Show, the wacky, wild and completely wonderful jukebox musical about the life and times of the goddess warrior herself, which I saw a total of four times before it closed this weekend.

To be clear, TCS is no masterpiece. It’s definitely NOT prestige art. There won’t be a national tour, and it’s unlikely to be revived. But I don’t know, somewhere inside the kooky, campy mess that it is is some real magic. The music is obviously iconic, the cast is wonderful, the choreography is great and the swirling, glittering costumes (all designed by the legendary Bob Mackie, who won the Tony for his work) are beyond compare, but there’s a lot more to the show than meets the eye. It’s a rollicking good time, to be sure, and a throughly welcome helping of colorful, kooky escapism, but it’s also an ode to feminism and sisterhood, to self-belief and self-reliance, to hope and faith and possibility and the transformative, restorative power of art and music, and to the spirit of Cher herself, which encompasses all of those things. I think that when most people think of Cher nowadays, they tend to think of her persona–the diva, the legend, the rebel. But underneath all of that, before she was all of that, Cher was a supremely-talented, hard-working girl who made her own way in the world, and who accomplished so much, all on her own terms.

And as hokey as it sounds (and probably is), I’m inspired by that. I’ve drawn strength from that. The show is a celebration of Cher’s remarkable life and legacy, but it’s also an endlessly amusing, wholly non-subtle testament to the fact that when you work hard and believe in yourself, you can accomplish your goals, and a solemn reminder that you, whoever you are, are enough. You don’t need anyone else to help you or guide you or define you or complete you. “You’re your own best thing,” as the late, great Toni Morrison wrote. And you don’t have to settle for less than you want, or less than you deserve.

I’m usually allergic to that level of blatant earnestness in any kind of text, but for some reason it worked for me here. Maybe I’m just at a place in my life and my career and my relationship where I really needed to hear that, whether I knew it or not, and TCS hit with that message at exactly the right moment.

Case in point: the opening number of the show is “If I Could Turn Back Time,” so naturally (Tony-winner!) Stephanie J. Block comes out as Cher, flanked by a hoard of sexy sailors. At the end of the number, she snatches the sailor hat off of one of their heads and throws it into the audience, for some lucky fan in the front center orchestra to catch. Guess who that lucky fan was on Friday night, at my final time seeing the show?

That’s what they call kismet, kids. There are no accidents.

Maybe I’m reading way more into that than I should. Maybe the show is nothing more than a well-produced bit of fluff about the life of a pop culture icon. Then again, maybe it’s actually a work of genius passing it self off as something far less substantial than it is. Either way, I LOVED this show. And I’m so glad it came into my life when I did, and I’m going to miss it dearly.

But, my heart will go on. If Cher and this show have taught me nothing else, it’s that. I believe in life after love! And a good thing, too, because that’s what this show was for me. Pure love.

xx

JB