BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/Originally published May 13, 2014 on AJC Music Scene blog
Some musical events are concerts. Some are shows.
But Cher always crafts her live outings as something completely unique – spectacles that are embellished to the point of excess. A concert within a show within a Broadway production.
Throw in her trademark feistiness – “It’s been 11 years since I was out on the road…and I thought I was really old then,” she told the adoring Philips Arena crowd with the ba-dum-bum timing of a Borscht Belt pro – aerialists, gymnasts, snappy lights and lock-step dancers and you have a most impressive 95-minute romp.
The singer-actress-icon turns 68 next week and, hold the plastic surgery jokes, is in tremendous shape.
Whether semi-baring her rear for “Half Breed” – which also featured a floor-length headdress, in case anyone noticed – Cher-skipping across the stage in a version of her memorable “If I Could Turn Back Time” peek-a-boo leotard or boasting a skin-colored bra with heart pasties during “Believe,” she looked terrific.
Since the opening night of this “Dressed to Kill” tour about seven weeks ago in Phoenix, the show has been cinched where necessary (set pieces rotated smoothly, two songs have been trimmed – sorry, “Shoop Shoop [It’s In His Kiss]” and “Heart of Stone” fans) and Cher seemed imbued with confidence and energy as she engaged in some light dance steps with her entourage and joked with the Monday night crowd.
As proof that this really, truly is her farewell tour – yes, we also heard that during her 2002-2005 outing – Cher pointed out that, “If I came back, I’d be dead…and a lot of you would be dead, too! I’m not kidding. This is my farewell, farewell, my honest-to-goodness-I’m-never-coming-back-I-swear-to-God tour.”
If true, she did indeed go out with a bang (bang?).
From the fizzy opening double punch of “Woman’s World” and “Strong Enough,” performed in a multi-colored headpiece designed to evoke “oohs” from the crowd for its opulence, Cher planted her empowerment flag and let it fly for the night.
She – with a voice husky and full – and her taut, five-piece band took fans on a quick journey through the greatest hits of her past with a ‘60s chic vibe (think black and white striped outfits and go-go boots) for “The Beat Goes On” and “I Got You Babe,” both performed with the venerable Sonny Bono on video.
A 19th century circus – strongmen and freakish characters – framed the backdrop for abbreviated versions of “Dark Lady” and “Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves” as Cher strolled across the stage in a multi-colored frock and maroon wig.
But an early high point came with the sultry “Welcome to Burlesque,” from the 2010 film (“Burlesque”) she starred in with Christina Aguilera. The movie may have defined mediocrity, but the soundtrack showcased this sassy gem – performed with Cher’s troop of Broadway-ready dancers – as well as the beautifully defiant ballad, “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me,” which Cher nailed with a robust vocal.
While chatter will inevitably focus on the glitziest showpieces – the ginormous golden horse that opened to reveal a blonde-wigged Cher for the dance floor popper “Take it Like a Man,” the well-produced Cher-as-vampire video preceding “Dressed to Kill” – some of the show’s most memorable moments came without the razzle dazzle.
A rootsy take on Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis” was highlighted by the gospel overtones of two backup singers, and even the ‘80s anthem “I Found Someone” fluttered gracefully on the strength of its solid chorus and lyrical resonance.
And while the glitzy neon-clad dancers that pumped up “Believe” were fun to watch, it was far more meaningful observing Cher close out the night with the new ballad, “I Hope You Find It,” as she flew over the crowd while belting the poignant song.
If this really was the end, what else can we say but thanks, Cher, for being irreplaceable.
Cher’s sister in awesomeness, Cyndi Lauper, opened the night with an hour-long set filled with amusing banter (not a surprise for anyone who has seen her before), potently delivered hits (does this woman’s vocal ability ever diminish?) and a few welcome throwbacks to celebrate the 30th (!!) anniversary of “She’s So Unusual.”
Initially clad in a concoction of Raggedy Ann-red wig, red and black taffeta and satin (“I wanted to look like I’m on fire for Hotlanta,” she joked), tight black pants and combat boots, Lauper, who launched “She Bop” from the back of the arena floor, was a hoot and a half.
She reminded the crowd that she opened for Cher’s tour about 12 years ago, then dovetailed into the story behind the percussive synth-ska of “Witness” before performing it with her five-piece band.
During the haunting “All Through the Night,” Lauper wielded a hand-held light under her chin, illuminating her porcelain features as she crooned the elegant ballad.
Given that she’s won a Tony for the Broadway hit “Kinky Boots” (she’s also a Grammy and Emmy winner, so can we get her an Oscar, please, to complete the EGOT?), Lauper told stories about Harvey Fierstein (who wrote the “Kinky” book) and detailed how she penned some of the musical’s songs.
She then dove into “Not My Father’s Son,” a stunning ballad from the show performed a capella, and the slick disco crowd-pleaser, “Sex is in the Heel.”
Of course the fan favorites “Time After Time” (still melancholy and beautiful) and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (a necessity, but hardly her best song) made well-received appearances.
But it was an electrifying, vocally demanding “Money Changes Everything” that ignited the stage, followed by the other end of the emotional see-saw, the ever-touching “True Colors.”
Some things, such as Cher and Lauper, don’t ever need to change.