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

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

The regional premiere of the Broadway musical “The Cher Show” presents a lot of the visual dazzle, great costumes, laughs and soaring good music associated with the long popular singer, comedian and movie star of the title. The show (book by Rick Elice, directed by Gerry McIntyre) may try to cram in a few too many of the dramatic moments in Cher’s long career but nonetheless is one of the best of the jukebox/biographical productions that’s drawn crowds to Ogunquit in recent years.

Part of the fun of the show is that there are three talented performers to play Cher at different periods.  There’s the mature artist of recent times, referred to as “Star,” who sings, dances, jokes and cries us through some of the details of her earlier life, often addressing the audience directly, like an old pal. Then there’s “Lady,” the hard-working and feisty performer of her middle years, and “Babe,” the naïve, raw talent of her initial breakthrough in the 1960s.

Separately and together, the trio affectionately tell 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 is centered on the era of TV variety shows when Cher gained broad fame in the U.S. “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour” and its offshoots added a dose of showbiz hipness to mainstream entertainment in the 1970s, and this musical is at its best in trying to capture those moments when onstage and offstage life was essentially in harmony for the star. Later, business and personal issues would lead her through some rather steep ups and downs.

As the mature “Star,” Sara Gettelfinger is an imposing presence. Affecting a Cher-like vocal style, whether singing or speaking, she’s the icon and self-proclaimed “Goddess Warrior” who we perhaps think we know best. “If I Could Turn Back Time” she sings to introduce what the show spiritedly attempts in its two-plus-hours. Her later solo take on “The Way of Love” fulfills its design as a showstopper.


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

Madeline Hudelson is a scene stealer as the young “Babe” who’s brought out of her cocoon by Sonny. In her Ogunquit debut, Hudelson adds a ton of youthful energy to such numbers as “I Got You Babe” and a later number where she shimmies though a comedy-infused version of “The Beat Goes On.”

David Engel, Matthew Hydzik, Angie Schworer and Zack Zaromatidis, plus a lively singing/dancing ensemble, fill out the high-quality cast in roles stretching from Bob Mackie to Cher’s mom to Gregg Allman, Lucille Ball and others.

Choreography by Jane Lanier adds both disco and Vegas styles to put life into the original Bob Mackie costume designs, where expanses of skin and outrageous plumage compete to catch the eye. An offstage band, directed by Kristin Stowell, keeps up the beat.

When all three Chers come together onstage, the show powers up toward “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” in a surge of a finish, then adds a rousing “Take Me Home” to welcome the magic back into the legendary playhouse.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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