As entertainment packages go, Cher has set a new standard for Las Vegas residencies, creating a video-drenched and choreography-rich showpiece that covers every highlight in her more than 40 years of performing. It’s the first permanent Vegas concert designed with biography in mind, complemented by a dancers and aerialists who draw on the Cirque du Soleil repertoire and whose moves are thematically in sync with the video content. Not a cutting edge show nor even one that emphasizes vocal prowess, this is a more a reminder of the length and breadth of Cher’s career assembled with a “Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour” aesthetic — play your hits, sing other people songs, make the audience laugh and give them something attractive to look at.
It should pay off handsomely at the box office as Vegas-visiting baby boomers’ word-of-mouth spreads to the America’s suburbs. The attraction in the Colosseum beyond the headliner is the gigantic 109-foot wide screen — Celine Dion used it for arty effects, Elton John told stories on it and Bette Midler barely employs it beyond a backdrop — and Cher uses every available spot to tell her story with a succession of classic clips presented in an artful manner.
It connects the dots between her first hit, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “All I Really Want to Do,” and her last, “Believe,” the biggest selling single of 1999; it’s light, frothy and fun. Musically, the Vegas revue emphasizes the value of the work with Sonny Bono and keeps the tackiness of her ‘70s hits at bay.
Cher obviously had two ways she could go on this and rather than present the tabloid edition of her life she choses to assemble a story of hard work and versatility: Sonny Bono figures prominently, her movie career is wrapped in a single block, the undiminished power of her voice is recalled, her deadpan delivery on TV celebrated. Fashion montages are more subtle — little is made of her more outlandish costumes — as that element is left to the live stage where it’s the expected sea of sparkles and skin with 11 different outfits, most of them skimpy, all of them familiar.
As Elton John has proven, Las Vegas provides an opportunity to stage an exclusive show that cannot and will not travel. Cher and her design team have taken this to this heart visually while sticking rather close to the set list of the Farewell Tour. To open the show she descends from the upper rafters in what she calls a “death mobile,” the collective design suggesting Glinda the good witch floating in inside the top of the Chrysler Building.
U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” remains her opener; “Strong Enough,” “If I Could Turn Back Time” and “Believe” still close the show. A handful of ‘60s hits have been excised, providing more time for costume and set changes. Considerign how much activity occurs onstage, her recent three-year Farewell Tour, which grossed close to $200 million in North America alone, went much more overboard than the Vegas show.
Her voice remains dark, husky and alluring. The older material has lost none of its charm and having Cher sing her part on “The Beat Goes On” against Sonny’s recording from 41 years ago is an experiment that works as well sonically as it does visually: The set and dancers are done up in black and white with several vintage reels of the duo beamed across the lower portion of the raised set. Sixty single spotlights pinpoint the action, and regardless of the absence of color and the age of the footage, it is one of the evening’s most crisp presentations.
Cher turned 62 this month and clearly has created a show with a pacing that ensures her delivery of the 200 shows in her Colosseum contract. Show contains two dozen numbers, 16 of which feature her live vocals, and a good number are less than full-length versions. Original recordings are used in four montages, the highlight being the Phil Spector-influenced obscurity “It’s the Little Things” played during a montage of early Sonny & Cher footage.
Low point of the night is a disco medley of “Love to Love You Baby,” “I Feel Love” and the dreadful “YMCA” by the backup band that feeds into Cher delivering an appropriately brassy “Don’t Leave Me This Way” and her own ‘79 club hit “Take Me Home.” Oddly enough, Cher and disco did not blend well in the ‘70s and they still do not.
She could stand to shake things up a bit in some song selections — “The Way of Love,” “After All” and “Walking in Memphis” formed a smart and varied triptych toward the end of the show, working much better than her steely rendition of the Pat Benatar hit “Love Is a Battlefield” early on.
More importantly, Cher has a congenial presence onstage, more welcoming that virtually any other femme singer tagged as a pop diva. She has long used onstage banter to poke at her image while simultaneously feeding it with yet another Bob Mackie garment, but at the Colosseum she was playful and decidedly not garish. Could it be Cher has turned to Las Vegas to secure a bit of respect? She may well get it for this effort.