I enjoyed Broadway’s The Cher Show, about the talented and indomitable superstar, starring three interacting women at different phases of her life. But let me discuss Chaz Bono, famed son of Cher and the late Sonny Bono. When I first heard about this show, I thought, “Great! Act One can be, ‘Wait, you’re a lesbian?’ and Act Two can be ‘Wait, you’re a man?’” I also knew that since Cher has long been an open book—especially about her own learning processes—her relationship with Chaz would be handled with both honesty and, ultimately, acceptance. After all, Cher was frank about initially feeling she’d lost a daughter, but, as always, she became more embracing and just recently, she tweeted against Trump’s attempted trans military ban by pointing to Chaz as a stellar trans example. She said Chaz “has the courage 2 be who he really is” and called Chaz “a strong, kind man with a moral compass who loves his country.”
But while Chas Bono is represented in the show—as a baby and also referenced as a growing child, who Cher wishes Sonny would let her spend more time with—you never learn that Chas came out as a lesbian and later transitioned as Chaz. Is Broadway trying to eradicate trans existence, like Trump is? I asked Chaz’s publicist why Chaz has such low visibility in the show and he replied, “No idea.” I also asked a spokesperson for the production for a comment, and she replied, “The creative team behind The Cher Show feel it is Chaz’s story to tell.”
Other characters from Cher’s life are certainly there—Sonny Bono, Phil Spector, Greg Allman, Robert Altman, and even the Bagel Boy. And the musical is honest about some dark stuff, like Cher’s difficulty reading and the way she was bullied as a child, the show’s message being to be fearless and independent, especially after Sonny almost works Cher to death while grabbing 95% of the money for himself. (The rest went to a lawyer.)
That being said, there is some queer content in the show, with dialogue like “Don’t try this at home, queens!” and a joke about “both queens of England—Freddie Mercury and Elton John.” Also, at one point, Cher addresses the crowd as “Ladies and gentlemen—and flamboyant gentlemen.” And speaking of flamboyant gentlemen, in a Bob Mackie fashion show segment, a shirtless stud prances around in a “Half Breed” headdress and a sort of glittery crotch sheath, which is funny, though even better would have been if they’d gotten Chad Michaels for one of the leads.
But did the show (which is written by Rick Elice and directed by Jason Moore) not want to disturb some uptight tourists by including Chaz? I hope that’s not the case. Backing up the idea that Cher just didn’t want to address her kids’ dramas, Elijah Blue barely gets mentioned too—though he’s never had quite as strong a narrative arc as Chaz, who’s been a public figure since Sonny and Cher brought the kid on camera at the end of their variety show every week. Chaz’s evolution has been common knowledge and he’s addressed it in books and a documentary.
Aside from all that, I did have a good time at the show—which is a glorified Vegas tribute—and veered between bouts of grinning and sympathizing. After a too jokey start with the three bantering Donna Summers—I mean Chers—it settles into a lively swirl of dramatics, fashion, and music, with fun juxtapositions of the ladies, as they “turn back time” and show how they made their dreams come true (though the empowerment theme is a tad too heavily laid on.)
With the right moves and vocal technique and without resorting to caricature, Broadway fave Stephanie J. Block is the standout as the mature Cher and Emily Skinner scores as the singer’s encouraging mom Georgia Holt and also a tough-talking Lucille Ball. An amazing amount of Cher’s life and and career are cleverly worked into the throughline, though no mention is made of Cher’s plastic surgery, not even a ribbing of the media for claiming she’d removed her ribs! But I’m obsessing on omissions again. Feel free to see The Cher Show, while I make some calls to work on Chaz: The Musical.