After presenting a year of performances in a temporary outdoor pavilion assembled in response to the pandemic, the folks at the Ogunquit Playhouse are inviting audiences to return to their historic theater for a 90and anniversary season of productions (masks compulsory from May 19).
The regional premiere of the Broadway musical “The Cher Show” features much of the visual dazzle, great costumes, booming laughs and good music associated with the popular longtime singer, comedian and movie star of the title. The show (book by Rick Elice, directed by Gerry McIntyre) may try to cram in some of the dramatic moments from Cher’s long career, but is nonetheless one of the best jukebox/biographical productions that have caught the crowds in Ogunquit lately. years.
Part of the fun of the show is that there are three talented performers to play Cher in different time periods. There is the mature artist of recent times, called “Star”, who sings, dances, jokes and cries us through certain details of his former life, often addressing the public directly, like an old pal. Then there’s “Lady,” the hardworking, feisty performer of her middle years, and “Babe,” the naïve, raw talent of her initial breakthrough in the 1960s.
Separately and together, the trio fondly recount how shy Cherilyn Sarkisian became the legendary Cher with the help of a guy named Sonny Bono and a whole lot of personal determination.
The show is centered on the era of TV variety shows when Cher achieved great fame in the United States “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour” and its offshoots added a dose of showbiz hipness to mainstream entertainment in the years 1970, and this musical is at its best trying to capture those times when life on and off stage was essentially in harmony for the star. Later, professional and personal problems took her through some rather steep ups and downs.
As a mature star, Sara Gettelfinger is an imposing presence. Affecting a Cher-esque vocal style, whether singing or speaking, she is the icon and self-proclaimed “warrior goddess” we may think we know best. “If I could turn back time,” she sings to introduce what the show fiercely attempts over its two-plus hours. His subsequent solo version of “The Way of Love” fulfills his design as a showstopper.
New to the Ogunquit scene, Charissa Hogeland, as the mid-period “Lady,” scores on “All I Ever Need Is You,” dueting with a short (running joke), ambitious, but ultimately loving Sonny, played by the rugged-voiced Dino Nicandros. Hogeland’s duet with Gettelfinger on “Strong Enough” is also a highlight.
Madeline Hudelson is a scene stealer as a young “Babe” who is brought out of her cocoon by Sonny. In her Ogunquit debut, Hudelson adds a ton of youthful energy to numbers like “I Got You Babe” and a later number where she sparkles through a comedic version of “The Beat Goes On.”
David Engel, Matthew Hydzik, Angie Schworer and Zack Zaromatidis, plus a lively song/dance ensemble, round out the high-quality cast in roles ranging from Bob Mackie and Cher’s mother to Gregg Allman, Lucille Ball and others.
Jane Lanier’s choreography adds both disco and Vegas stylings to bring Bob Mackie’s original costumes to life, where expanses of skin and outrageous plumage vie for attention. An offstage band, led by Kristin Stowell, keeps the beat going.
When the three Chers reunite on stage, the show builds to “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” in a finishing flurry, then adds a catchy “Take Me Home” to welcome the magic to the legendary performance hall.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer living in Portland.
Got Tix: where to find concert tickets for upcoming shows