You may cherish Cher as the sassy star of 1970s TV variety shows, as a deep-voiced disco-era diva, as an Oscar-winning actress, as a Las Vegas headliner, or as the wittiest person on Twitter (or all of the above). From hippie chick to pop culture icon, this superstar is the ultimate survivor, and her trials and triumphs will electrify Broadway audiences when The Cher Show arrives at the Neil Simon Theatre November 1. Here’s a look back at Cher’s six decades of stardom, with commentary by the new musical’s book writer, three-time Tony-nominee Rick Elice (Jersey Boys), and its director, Tony-nominee Jason Moore (Avenue Q and the hit movie Pitch Perfect).
“Cher has had a No. 1 hit in every decade since the 1960s,” marvels Elice. “How do you do that unless you’re unique? We get a sense of her life just through the sound of her voice and range of songs she recorded. The mission question of our show is based on a lyric from one of her most popular hits: ‘Do you believe in life after love?’ Cher has lived the answer to that question over and over again.” Adds Moore, “Cher’s music crosses many genres and styles, and the lyrics tend to be stories of love and friendship, triumph and heartbreak, so they suit the story we’re telling on stage really well. The hits don’t appear chronologically, and we use them in an emotional way that will surprise people.”
1965: “I Got You Babe” becomes Sonny & Cher’s first No. 1 hit; the duo chart 10 Top 40 singles by 1972, including “The Beat Goes On.”
1971: “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves” tops the charts, the first of Cher’s three No. 1 hits in the 1970s (along with “Half Breed” and “Dark Lady”).
1979: Cher embraces the disco era with “Take Me Home,” an extended-play single that reaches the Top 10.
1987: After a string of hit movies, Cher releases a self-titled album that goes platinum and includes the Top 10 hit “I Found Someone.”
1998: “Believe,” the first commercial recording to feature Auto-Tune, hits No. 1 and earns Cher a Grammy Award in the Best Dance Recording category.
2013: Closer to the Truth, Cher’s 25th studio album, debuts at No. 3, with the dance-pop single “Woman’s World.”
2017: Cher launches her Classic Cher concert residency at the Monte Carlo Hotel in Las Vegas and receives the Icon Award at the Billboard Music Awards.
Trendsetting TV Star
The Cher Show revisits the era of Sonny and Cher’s popular variety shows and the quirky chemistry that charmed America. “Their performing personae reflected their off-camera relationship,” observes Elice. “He was the adorable buffoon, and she was the gorgeous, sharp-witted, skeptical partner. They rode that wave until their personal lives interfered. It was a variety show, but in some respects it was a harbinger of reality television.”
Moore, who grew up in Arkansas, recalls watching the couple with his mom. “There were only three or four channels then, so Sonny and Cher were an important part of people’s weekly lives,” he says. “Cher was finding herself while she was becoming famous, and she was always very genuine.”
1971: The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour premieres on CBS as a summer replacement series and becomes a ratings hit. The show runs for three seasons.
1974: Cher receives a Golden Globe for Best TV Actress, Comedy or Musical.
1975: After divorcing Sonny, Cher returns to TV in Cher, a series produced by her then-boyfriend, David Geffen; it was canceled the following year.
1976: Sonny and Cher reunite (on TV only; she had married rocker Gregg Allman) for The Sonny and Cher Show, which runs for one season.
2003: The NBC special Cher: The Farewell Tour wins an Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special.
Acclaimed Film Actress
“Imagine being in a play directed by Robert Altman, and one night Mike Nichols comes backstage and says, ‘I have a movie part for you — and by the way, it’s opposite Meryl Streep,’” Elice says of Cher’s smashing film debut in Silkwood. “He could see Cher’s gift for being able to say anything on camera and have it seem completely natural, honest, and true. She is entirely real and compelling in close-up, and that’s why she did so well in the movies.” Adds Moore, “Mike Nichols recognized her charisma and star quality, which is something directors crave, especially in film. Cher has a big, open heart, as a person and as an artist, and that comes through in the roles she has played.”
1983: After seeing Cher in the short-lived Broadway play Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, Mike Nichols casts her as Meryl Streep’s best friend in Silkwood, a performance honored with an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe.
1985: Cher plays the mother of a son with a rare cranial disorder in Mask, earning her a Golden Globe nomination.
1987: Her charismatic star turn in Moonstruck wins her a best actress Golden Globe and an Academy Award, besting her pal Streep’s performance in Ironweed.
1990: In Mermaids, Cher honors her own mother with the story of an eccentric mom who moves her daughters (played by Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci) from town to town.
2010: After concentrating on concerts, Cher returns to film as a nightclub impresario in Burlesque, opposite Christina Aguilera.
2018: Cher plays Ruby Sheridan, mother of Donna (Meryl Streep again!) in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
Cher formed her most enduring partnership when she met costume designer Bob Mackie on the set of The Carol Burnett Show in 1967. “They were immediately simpatico,” Elice says. “She had a figure that was a designer’s dream and was willing to try anything. They spurred each other on, and the whole was immediately greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a partnership that continues to this day.” Indeed, Mackie is designing every costume for The Cher Show, a task Moore describes as “re-creating things that might be well known, adapting things he made for Cher, pulling designs that never got made, and creating original pieces for moments specific to our show. He and Cher had a mind-meld early on: He had big ideas, and she wasn’t afraid of that.”
1974: Cher’s eye-popping feather and crystal-studded nude-color gown causes a sensation when she and Bob Mackie arrive together at the Met Gala.
1986: The star makes headlines at the Academy Awards in Mackie’s midriff-baring black Mohawk costume.
1988: Accepting her best actress Oscar, Cher stuns in a seemingly transparent black dress.
1999: Cher is honored by the Council of Fashion Designers of America for her influence on fashion.
2000, 2003: Mackie receives Emmy Awards honoring his costumes for Cher: Live in Concert From Las Vegas and Cher: The Farewell Tour.
2018: After creating costumes and headgear (including one of Cher’s signature headdresses) for the Classic Cher Las Vegas concerts, Mackie signs on to create costumes for The Cher Show, telling Entertainment Weekly, “Darling, my sketchpad is ready!”