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Apr 11 2019

Stage Door: "The Cher Show"and "Aint too Proud"

by Nathaniel R

Musical theater has its own version of limited and wide release / indie and blockbuster if you will.The analogy is far from perfect but those movie groupings are sort of comparable to Off Broadway and Broadway.Every Broadway show is trying to be a four-quadrant blockbuster.

One of the safest routes to a quick buck (if not necessarily continuous sales) is the jukebox musical.Not all of them try to double as biographies of whoever's songbook it is but many do.That way they're easily marketable,excessively familiar,and can rely on nostalgia and sight-unseen goodwill to fill the house...

We recently caught two new members of this crowded subgenre of musical: "Aint Too Proud,"the story of Motown's supergroup The Temptations,and "The Cher Show"the story of,you guessed it CHER.All caps intended.

The double feature didn't begin so well for me.The audience of "Aint Too Proud"ate it up joyfully while I sat stubbornly unmoved.I had difficult understanding why I wasn't responding until my plus one,who is a Broadway musician,turned to me during intermission and said "are they going to let ANY of the songs play all the way through?".

It's staged beautifully (particularly the lighting) and even the projections were tasteful (and that's a big compliment since over- indulgent projections are ruining many a stage show now).Butevery.single.songwas interrupted with storytelling.The show becomes a tiresomely enthusiastic Wikipedia entry determined to tell you every single beat in the band's career.Yes each change of personnel,management,and the,uh,temptations that destroyed a few of The Temptations.We've seen it all before in every episode of Behind-the-Music and most big-screen musical biographies.The effect was exhausting given the nearly 3 hour running time,since the music was interrupted so often.

Derrick Baskin,Jawan Jackson,Jeremy Pope,Ephraim Sykes,and Paul Harkness

Despite considerable reservations about the show -- the length,the choppy musical numbers,the exposition as book -- let's give credit where its due with the hard-working cast.Three favourites emerged: Hats off to James Harkness as Paul Williams,one of the least outwardly showy performances,but he grounds the material beautifully in emotion.On the opposite side of the razzle-dazzle spectrum,both Jeremy Pope (recently seen inChoir Boy)as Eddie Kendricks and Ephraim Sykes (who you'll remember fromHairspray Live!) as David Ruffin play the two flamboyantly focus-pulling members of the band.They bring boundless energy and killer voices with them (I suspect Tony voters will make room for at least one of the three in "Featured Actor").

In some ways"The Cher Show"is a messier piece of pop art than "Aint Too Proud"but that actually doesn't prove to be a disadvantage.

Both shows reflect the music act they're profiling extremely well.The Temptations were super polished,tightly choreographed,and produced or "packaged"if you will and the show is that,too,like it's been combed over carefully to remove any weird flourishes,or personal idiosyncracies or anyone falling slightly out of step.

By contrast "The Cher Show"is flashier and more effortful about its spectacle,but far less polished.It's scrappy and messy and often tongue-in-cheek,perpetually making it up as it goes along (as Cher did...this was not a woman with a sure plan!) and literally in conversation with its past selves.The three Chers,speak to each other more than they do any supporting character (even Sonny Bono,played by Jarrod Spector) in the excessively corny book.That corny humor feels organically canned,though,(if such a thing exists!) as it springs from Cher's history on Variety Shows,the hostess with the costumed mostest.Because the Cher's are constantly conversing the "history"presented doesn't play out monotonously as it does in so many music bios but instead like a silly flip through an old scrapbook with friends "Remember this?"

Headlining the show is two-time Tony nominee Stephanie J Block (The Mystery of Edwin Drood,Falsettos) as "Star"Cher.She serves as glamourous quippy narrator during Act 1 and takes full dramatic duties over for the final stretch of the show in the movie star and later years.(I first saw Block as Liza Minnelli inThe Boy From Ozwith Hugh Jackman and in Jane Fonda's role in the musical adaptation of9 to 5so this isn't her first time taking on a gay icon.)

Backing her up are Micaela Diamond as the youngest Cher and Teal Wicks as the rising solo Cher.Act One is devoted mostly to the Sonny & Cher years,Act Two to career reinvention and solo years (and as such it's got a lot more ground to cover,much of it is entirely skipped!).Given the greatest career moments "revue"feel,The Cher Show sometimes feels like a wildly more expensive,less embarassing,and better-scripted version ofthat Cher Rusical onRuPaul's Drag Race.

I was pleasantly surprised to see "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me"fromBurlesquegiven such a high profile placement in the show (though the movie is never name-checked) though of course "If I Could Turn Back Time"and "Believe"are the most forefully showcased,given that they're the diva's biggest hits.

Strangely the most thrilling number in the show is "Dark Lady"which is the only one performed without any of the three Chers but gives the very sexy dance ensemble a chance to show off in very tight costumes with revealing rips all over them.

We can't heartily recommend either show but if you're looking for recommendations,consider this: "Aint Too Proud"is technically the better show (and will surely find some Tony nomination love here and there) but we actually enjoyed "The Cher Show"more,and not just because we're Cher fans though obviously that helps."The Cher Show"actually lets the songs play through without interruption sometimes,and strains only a little when it reaches for gravitas towards the end,mostly content to divert your attention and send you out with good vibes.

The jukebox musical is not exactly a highbrow art form,so laugh at yourselves when you're making one.We'll take scrappy uncool weirdos over slickly perfect showmen within the context of overproduced high-concept Broadway shows.

Aint Too ProudC
The Cher ShowB

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Reader Comments (10)

We took my mother-in-law to Jersey Boys for Christmas.She loved it passionately,but I closed the book on jukebox musicals with that one.The artifice of it was awful.

April 11,2019 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

I saw "The Cher Show"earlier this year,and adored the dynamic among three Chers...what a way to showcase a person's life that's seemingly lived more than one.Cher's revenge on Sonny is satisfying,but it's even more satisfying to see him portrayed the way he is in the show.

April 11,2019 | Unregistered CommenterJess K.

Saw "Cher Show"in the Chicago tryouts and agree that it's corny fun.I don't know how much they revised it,but in the Chi run they had "You haven't seen the last of me"as about the 4th song of the evening,so it was like - yeah,we know.We just sat down.

April 11,2019 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

Dave S -- they've moved the song til quite late in the show now so it gets a prominent emotional placement that she's not giving up (when her career seemed to be over,pre-Believe).

April 11,2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I hear that Robert Altman is actually a brief character in The Cher Show re: Five & Dime.Is this true???

April 11,2019 | Unregistered CommenterCorey

I saw the Real Cher in Vegas last month,and that was phenomenal.Meet me in May,when she's back again!

(Bonus points: Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood were in the audience!)

April 11,2019 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

forever -- omg.i'd love to see her live.never have despite all the tours.

Corey -- this is actually true.He has one or two scenes giving her faith in herself as an actress due to COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME,JIMMY DEAN JIMMY DEAN.

April 11,2019 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

LOVE Stephanie J.Block (although if I recall she actually played the Jane Fonda role in 9 To 5 - Allison Janney played the Tomlin role).She is pretty consistently a highlight of every show she's in,so I hope she gets another Tony nom for this.Haven't seen either show yet,but I've heard good things,so I'm looking forward to seeing both.However,I do worry that Ain't Too Proud is basically Jersey Boys all over again based on all the descriptions I've heard.

April 11,2019 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

The biggest problem for Ain't Too Proud is that we've seen this story before and told so much better.The 1990s miniseries is a mainstay on VH-1 (they show it like clockwork every month) and,no matter what point I stumble on it,it sucks me in.Leon should have been nominated for and won an Emmy for his portrayal of David Ruffin.

April 12,2019 | Unregistered CommenterNewMoonSon

Perfect description of the Cher show - and the show gives the audience the spectacle it wants.

Stephanie J Block is pretty amazing throughout,and just captures share both as a star,and as something of an earth mother to her former selves.I was most impressed by how she is able to talk with them,but also has her own hangups about the pain she's going through.

April 22,2019 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

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