Charissa Hogeland, Sara Gettelfinger and Madeline Hudelson as three versions of Cher representing different phases of her career: Lady, Star and Babe. Photo by Nile Scott Studios

After a year of presenting shows under a temporary open-air pavilion built in response to the pandemic, the folks at the Ogunquit Playhouse are inviting audiences back to their historic theater for 90th Anniversary season of the productions (masks compulsory from May 19th).

The regional premiere of the Broadway musical The Cher Show showcases much of the visual sparkle, gorgeous costumes, laughter and soaring good music associated with the title’s long-loved singer, comedian and movie star. The show (written by Rick Elice, directed by Gerry McIntyre) may attempt to cram in a few too many of the dramatic moments of Cher’s long career, but it is nonetheless one of the finest jukebox/biographical productions to draw crowds to Ogunquit in recent memory Years.

Part of the fun of the show is that there are three talented performers playing Cher at different times. There’s the mature artist of late, dubbed the “Star,” who sings, dances, jokes and cries us through some details of her past life, often addressing the audience directly like an old friend. Then there’s Lady, the hardworking and spirited middle-aged performer, and Babe, the naïve, raw talent of her first breakthrough in the 1960s.

Individually and together, the trio lovingly tells the story of how the 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 focuses on the era of TV variety shows, when Cher rose to widespread fame in the US “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour” and its offshoots brought a dose of showbiz hipness to mainstream entertainment in the 1970s, and this musical is at its finest in trying to capture those moments when life on and offstage was essentially in harmony for the star. Later, business and personal problems took her through pretty steep ups and downs.

As a mature “star”, Sara Gettelfinger is an imposing figure. With a Cher-like vocal style, whether singing or speaking, she’s the iconic and self-proclaimed “warrior goddess” we might think we know best. “If I Could Turn Back Time,” she sings to introduce what the show is spiritedly trying to do in its more than two hours. Her later solo version of “The Way of Love” fulfills its design as a showstopper.

New to the Ogunquit stage, Charissa Hogeland scores as “Lady” mid-period on “All I Ever Need Is You” in a duet with a short (running gag), ambitious but ultimately loving Sonny, played by the rugged-voiced Dino Nicodros. Hogeland’s duet with Gettelfinger on “Strong Enough” is also a highlight.

Madeline Hudelson is a scene thief as a young “babe” who is plucked from her cocoon by Sonny. In her Ogunquit debut, Hudelson adds loads of youthful energy to numbers like “I Got You Babe” and a later number in which she weaves her way through a comedy version of “The Beat Goes On.”

David Engel, Matthew Hydzik, Angie Schworer and Zack Zaromatidis and a lively singing and dancing ensemble complement the star cast in roles ranging from Bob Mackie to Cher’s mother to Gregg Allman, Lucille Ball and more.

Jane Lanier’s choreography brings both disco and Vegas styles to life to bring original Bob Mackie costume designs to life, where loose skin and outrageous plumage vie for attention. An offstage band led by Kristin Stowell keeps the beat.

When all three Chers come together on stage, the show builds to a stormy finale with “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me,” then adds a rousing “Take Me Home” to welcome the magic back to the legendary theater mean.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer based in Portland.

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