A Cher concert is always a fun evening out, but her current engagement “Classic Cher” at the MGM National Harbor, which she teased by saying she planned to make it her “best show ever,” is, sadly, far from it.
In fairness, to call the show “Classic” implies she’s not reinventing the wheel this time, yet there are so many rehashed segments, costumes and set pieces from her last two tours, to call it a new anything is a stretch. The expectation bar is pretty high, too, considering what we’ve seen her do on her 2002-2005 “Farewell Tour” and the 2014 “Dressed to Kill Tour,” both larger-than-life productions that were each high points in her 50-year career.
This time, instead of criss-crossing the states on a lengthy tour, the legendary diva is doing two residency shows — one in Las Vegas at the Park Theater at the Monte Carlo (which opened last month) and in Oxon Hill, Md., at the Theater at MGM National Harbor, where she opened last Friday, March 17. “Classic Cher” is her first time performing concerts in two years. She plays MGM through this weekend then returns in late August (tickets are here).
Cheers erupted as the house lights went down and images of Cher over the years flashed on the video screens leading up to the moment the purple curtains parted and there was the 70-year-old diva perched above the stage in an Egyptian-inspired outfit and huge black afro belting out her 2013 hit “Woman’s World” as she was lowered onto the stage revealing a peek-a-boo number that left little to the imagination.
She strutted among her warrior-clad background dancers while belting out the next song, “Strong Enough,” from her ’98 comeback album “Believe.” So far she was in fine form. Yes, the opening numbers were lifted from her 2014 “Dressed To Kill Tour” but Cher has always been one to stick to a somewhat standard set list over the years and yes, it seemed during the opening number a backing track was used to give her a fuller effect, but her live voice was there albeit a bit faint.
She promised a new opening monologue and we got it — it just made little sense as Cher shared two unrelated stories, one about turning 40, another about her first appearance on David Letterman. Nothing about the show, no welcome, just these random-feeling tales. She ended with, “I’m now 70. Instead of showing my ass, I think I should be in an old folks home.” She joked before leaving the stage, “I just wanna ask you one thing. What’s your granny doing tonight?”
Next up was another “Believe”-era hit, “All or Nothing,” with an India-inspired set completely lifted from her 2002 Farewell Tour. Dancers donned the same outfits as then, the “Gayatri Mantra” interlude chant was used complete with the same giant mechanical elephant and Cher emerging from it in a similar outfit. This time though, the energy wasn’t there and her voice was overpowered by the band during much of it.
As quick as she got the crowd up on their feet, they were back down as a montage of her years with Sonny played on the giant video screen above the stage. She emerged in a colorful hippie-inspired outfit complete with fur vest and long black wig harkening back to her early days as she sang “The Beat Goes On.”
She performed her first solo hit next, the Dylan cover, “All I Really Want To Do,” but seemed like she just wanted to get it over with before doing a virtual duet with Sonny for “I Got You Babe.” Before the duet, she said it took her a while to do this and during her first Farewell Tour she wasn’t ready before joking, “First farewell tour? Who would’ve thought I’d be alive for more farewell tours?” The crowed loved the duet and it turned into a major singalong moment across the room.
Circus barkers and dancers performed an interlude before Cher came out performing her classic hit, “Gypsies Tramps and Thieves” followed by a snippet of “Dark Lady.” As quickly as she had everyone up on their feet, she was gone and dancers filled the gap with a Native American dance as the diva emerged in a complete feather headdress belting out “Half Breed” before disappearing again. By now the proceedings felt choppy and disjointed. The costumes — recycled or not — are great, but why go to the trouble of donning them if you’re just going to zip through a perfunctory, two-minute excerpt of a song?
Last time out, Cher sang “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” from her movie “Burlesque” always prefacing it with a disclaimer that it was a tough song to sing and it would be whatever it would be. This time, it’s played on a video. The dancers then perform and Cher emerges as Tess (her character in the movie) and sings the infinitely less satisfying “Welcome to Burlesque.” A handy way, perhaps, to tip her hat to that film in a less vocally taxing way, but it felt unmemorable and the crowd seemed unimpressed.
Next up was yet another video performance/costume change for “Lie To Me,” from her last album “Closer to the Truth.” I would have much rather heard her sing it live and it would have been a nice stylistic break in the show. Instead it melted into a disco-inspired interlude leading up to Cher coming out in a sparkly ensemble performing a brief version of ’79’s “Take Me Home” before running off stage yet again.
A montage of clips from the various films she was in was shown on the screen as well as her Academy Award win, which drew cheers, before Cher entered from stage left singing “After All” in a sheer gold gown with what looked like a halo adorning her long blond tresses. During her Vegas show, she emerges on a boat gliding across the stage, but since the stage is smaller at the MGM, she had to change her entrance.
Another costume change followed with a video of her talking about her love of Elvis before her band played a long intro as she entered from stage right in jeans and a zipped jacket sporting curly blond hair singing “Walking In Memphis,” which had the audience up cheering and singing along. It was a nice surprise considering it wasn’t a big hit when she released it in the mid-‘90s.
Thankfully instead of running off for another change, she followed the Marc Cohn cover with her Betty Everett cover “The Shoop Shoop.” She normally has a lot of fun with this on past tours, but she just seemed disinterested this time and the energy was lacking. Oddly two background singers emerged for this number, to join Cher and her six-piece band. Who knows where they’d been hiding heretofore.
The band got a moment to shine as they played her hit “Bang Bang” before Cher entered center stage singing “I Found Someone” decked out in a sheer black outfit with knee-high boots and leather jacket. The crowd went wild as she moved across the stage belting out the rock classic before launching into her signature hit “If I Could Turn Back Time.” In other tours, there was a big lead up to it and she really got into it, but this time it felt like she just wanted to get through it. Without any goodbyes, she left the stage as the curtains closed.
After a few minutes, they opened up to a rave-style dance routine complete with lasers as a remix of Cher’s biggest hit “Believe” played. Cher started singing “Believe” but didn’t emerge until a bit into it (missed cue maybe?) and when she did, she just seemed like she just wanted the concert to end. The energy that she usually has for it was gone and it felt like just another song to get through. Once she finished, she put the mic down, waved goodbye to each side of the audience and was gone. No goodbyes, no thank yous, done. Cher had left the building.
Since the second leg of the “Dressed to Kill Tour” in 2014 was canceled due to health issues, I was especially eager to see Cher again. No doubt it’s a fun night out for casual fans and the visual spectacle she’s known for is there. But to charge $109-nearly $500 for a show this rehashed and disjointed is a bit much.
The MGM theater is surprisingly small and intimate and it’s fun to see Cher in this setting. But without the taxation of schlepping from city to city over months on end, I’d hoped the legend would be at the top of her game. Yeah, she’s 7o, but it’s not about that — with no audience interaction, shoddy sound mixing and endless interludes, the whole production felt half hearted.
It might be a tough sell since she’s known for the big sets and costumes (she was doing this kind of thing years before Madonna), but a slightly scaled-back show with more slots for actual singing and some second-tier (and fresher) material like “You’d Better Sit Down Kids” or “Living in a House Divided” would have been great. That, for me, would have been “Classic Cher.”