Better Than: MOST CONCERTS.
Cher has an EGO. One Tony Award away from getting that ‘T’ at the end of EGOT, she embraces every double-meaning of the word in a way that is engaging, self-deprecating and very Cher. After decades in the biz, a Vegas residency, numerous awards, and countless farewell tours, she has retained her ability to simultaneously be the centerpiece showgirl as well as the ringleader of her own circus. On her latest tour–her “farewell farewell farewell tour” as she cheekily calls it–the Cher of 2014 is not only a culmination of every prior phase in her life but maybe the best version of all.
Prior to the main event, Cyndi Lauper opened the show. Of course this isn’t Lauper’s first time at the Cher rodeo, having opened for her in the early millennium. Her thrift shop brand of neon messiness is the polar opposite of Cher’s pristine sets, choreography and costuming, but it’s a rabble-rousing opening fairly perfect for getting the crowd amped for what’s next. It took a few songs and some jumping off the stage and on amps on Lauper’s part to get this particular crowd jumping, but by the time she brought two very famous members of the audience, Rosie O’Donnell and Liza Minnelli, on-stage to sing back-up on “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” they were finally ready to start the night.
A Cher show has some elements of being a History Channel special except more fabulous. After the stadium lights dimmed, a montage played on the curtains still hiding the set. It was nostalgic, emotional and quite empowering to see the many phases of the legend displayed like cards fanned out on a table. She visually embodied every decade she’s mastered, from the ’60s on, living out every shift in culture and style and movement. As the curtain dropped, it revealed a shockingly magnificent and gorgeous layout. In an ornate and colorful headpiece matching the strategically placed beads and patterns atop her sparkly nude bodysuit, Cher stood atop a 20-foot pole like a queen overseeing her kingdom. It was the first of many enchanting vignettes she’d offer throughout the show. “Woman’s World,” the feminist dance anthem and lead single from her most recent album Closer to the Truth, opened the set and introduced us to the fantastic crew of dancers that would guide us and host the Cirque Du Soleil type transitions between songs and sets. Her voice sounded spectacular as she shifted from the new to the old(er) with “Strong Enough” from her Believe album.
Then began the banter. It’s her Vegas, her actress, and her variety show pasts that help her excel at this well beyond many. Cher is not about the sob story or the re-telling of a rags-to-riches tale. She won’t stand up there and tell the world everything she’s been through. Instead, she arrives and assumes you know the gist and goes straight to the riches. She basks in her own glory and her own celebrity and wants you to eat it up right along with her. As she says, she “majored in diva” at the top of her class. Somehow, it’s more inspirational than the dichotomy of a pop star being a pop star while also aligning with the fans. She knows her place and we know how she got there, and Cher is not afraid to remind us exactly how far she’s come by showing rather than telling. Her stories, like the one about Dr. Pepper’s gift to her (“a sad-ass cooler”) after a show, feel as unfiltered as her tweets, but as polished as one of her excellent film performances.
Scenes continued to change from a vampire fantasy for “Dressed to Kill” to an old school circus freak show for “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” and “Dark Lady.” Between those was a touching tribute to her late ex-husband Sonny Bono and the era that introduced us to Cher. A montage played before mod dancers came out during “The Beat Goes On” as she sang with a video of a very, very young Cher and Sonny also singing the duet in the background. Then she did what she had deemed the unthinkable, something she never planned to do, a duet with a virtual Sonny on a large video screen to “I Got You Babe.” It was cheesy but emotional to watch her lovingly look at the vintage clip of Sonny singing directly to the camera then at her while performing the duet.
Of course, being around for decades means some rules have changed and some costuming and phases that were slightly less controversial in their heyday are seen in a different light now. It’s difficult to watch Cher arrive on stage in a full Native American headdress for “Half Breed” without cringing. Her minuscule Cherokee heritage has always been argued in conversations of whether or not she’s allowed to don such a stereotypical outfit, but it’s also at the center of the song’s story. In a cultural atmosphere where appropriation is being discussed and argued so frequently while lines are being drawn and more first person narratives are finally getting due notice, this particular phase of her career should have been better presented in the context of the show.
Like the opening and the dedication to Sonny, Cher offered an ode and montage to her significant film career. Clips of her best scenes and even her Oscar acceptance speech raised the stakes and offered a segue into a pair of songs from her most recent film appearance, 2010’s Christina Aguilera co-starring sparkly musical spectacle Burlesque. In the same costume from the film, she basically offered us a stage-version of her “Welcome to Burlesque” performance, then belted out her ballad from the film, “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me.” It was also a turning point in the show as she started to move towards her more rock and country infused songs, but not without a quick detour to ancient times for “Take It Like a Man” complete with a gilded Trojan horse and a gilded Cher. It was a last over-the-top hurrah before getting to her Elvis tribute and cover of Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis.” Her ode to her country roots bled directly into rock ‘n’ roll Cher, where she blasted through “I Found Someone” and “If I Could Turn Back Time,” all while wearing a sparkly black bodysuit and looking like she hasn’t aged a day since the famous video for the latter had been filmed.
The show ended with a bang, beginning with a very neon rave for “Believe.” The audience seemed like it was simultaneously experiencing some type of catharsis while belting out the auto-tune game-changer. It all ended with a newer ballad, “I Hope You Find It,” a surprising choice made even more so as Cher became aerial and flew above the audience seated in the sections just above the floor seats. If this was a “farewell farewell farewell,” then it was fine one. Knowing Cher, she’ll be back at it again in a few year’s time.
Critical Bias: I love Cher so much that I saw Burlesque more than once in theaters and have basically built a shrine at my desk.
Overheard: “That was pretty cool.” – an audience member who finally became impressed when Cher flew directly above us during the final song.
Random Notebook Dump: I saw Perez Hilton completely jamming out during “Just Like Jesse James” and that may be the one time I’ve said to myself “Wow, Perez Hilton is alright.”
Dressed to Kill
The Beat Goes On
I Got You Babe
Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves
Welcome to Burlesque
You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me
Take It Like a Man
Walking in Memphis
Just Like Jesse James
Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)
I Found Someone
If I Could Turn Back Time
I Hope You Find It