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Music & Concerts

Cher’s new MGM mini-residency lifts heavily from previous tours

Revolving door of costume changes, endless interludes and bad sound mixing mar concert

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Cher concert review, gay news, Washington Blade

Cher’s new ‘Classic Cher’ show at the MGM National Harbor features all the spectacle and camp you’d expect. (Washington Blade photos by Brian Walmer)

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.”

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Troy Cormier

    March 23, 2017 at 8:36 pm

    Saw this show in Las Vegas Valentine’s night. You hit all the points we thought after the show. To me Dressed to Kill was amazing., and the Farewell Tour was fresh for the time full of energy. I love Cher but left after Classic Cher a little cheated. Next suppose is New York for her musical. I’m still a huge fan.

    • Brian Walmer

      March 24, 2017 at 1:21 pm

      Thank you for your comment. I’m glad to know others felt this way too. I had a few friends at the show I was at and they thought she was off a bit, but for me it was the fact the show was so recycled and the flow wasn’t there. The Farewell Tour 2002 was fantastic the time, I saw it 3 times. Dressed to Kill was even better especially since she did new songs (saw it 3 times) but this show just left me wanting more. There were no surprises. I appreciate your comments a lot.

  2. Michael

    March 23, 2017 at 9:26 pm

    Nice review…deserved.

    • Brian Walmer

      March 24, 2017 at 1:21 pm

      Thank you

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Music & Concerts

Forget streaming, the holiday classics return to area stages

Bring your proof of vaccination and check out a local production this season

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A scene from a previous Gay Men's Chorus of Washington Holiday Show. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A year ago, the holiday season was streamed. But now, thanks to various protocols including masks and proof of vaccination, DMV theatergoers can come together and experience – live and in-person — both beloved classics and some promising new works. Here’s a smattering of what’s out there.

At Olney Theatre, Paul Morello is thrilled to bring back “A Christmas Carol 2021” (through Dec. 26), his solo adaptation of Dickens’ ghost story. Concerning returning to a live audience, Morello says, “While this is technically a one-person show, it’s really about the connection and collaboration with an audience, being in the same room, breathing in unison. I can’t do this without an audience and for a story that thrives on redemption, mortality, isolation, the need for community and connection, and the things that matter most, the timing couldn’t be better.”

Olney also presents “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” through Jan. 2. This musical “tale as old as time” stars out actor Jade Jones as Belle and Evan Ruggiero plays the Beast. olneytheatre.org

For the holidays, Synetic Theater at Crystal City is reworking “Cinderella” (Nov. 27-Dec. 26). Led by an all-female team of creators, this festive take on the classic fairytale is inspired by Afro-Latino music and dance. Directed and adapted by Maria Simpkins who also plays the title role. synetictheater.org

Last year, because of COVID-19, Ford’s Theatre presented “A Christmas Carol” as a radio broadcast, but now the fully produced play returns to the venue’s historic stage through Dec. 27. A popular Washington tradition for more than 30 years, the thoroughly enjoyable and topnotch take on the Dickens’ classic features Craig Wallace reprising the part of Scrooge, the miser who after a night of ghostly visits, rediscovers Christmas joy. fords.org

Another D.C. tradition guaranteed to put audiences in a holiday mood is the Washington Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” playing at the Warner Theatre through Dec. 26. Set to Tchaikovsky’s enchanted score, this charming and superbly executed offering takes place in Georgetown circa 1882 and features a retinue of historic figures along with children, rats, fairies and a mysterious godfather. Choreography is by Septime Webre. washingtonballet.org

The Folger Consort, the superb early music ensemble in residence at the Folger, will be performing seven concerts of “A Medieval Christmas” (Dec. 10-18) at St. Mark’s Church on Capitol Hill. A streaming version of the concert will also be available to view on-demand. folger.edu

At Lincoln Theatre, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. presents “The Holiday Show” (Dec. 4, 11, and 12) replete with tap-dancing elves, a dancing Christmas tree, snow, and a lot more. The fun and festive program’s song list includes “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”, “The 12 Rockin’ Days of Christmas,” and “Boogie Woogie Frosty.” Featured performances range from the full Chorus, soloists, all GMCW ensembles, and the GenOUT Youth Chorus. gmcw.org

Arena Stage is marking the season with August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars” (through Dec. 26), a drama about a small group of friends who gather following the untimely death of their friend, a blues guitarist on the edge of stardom. Directed by Tazewell Thompson, the production features an exciting cast that includes local actors Dane Figueroa Edidi and Roz White. arenastage.org

Creative Cauldron is serving up some holiday magic with “The Christmas Angel” (Dec. 9-19). Based on a little-known 1910 novel by Abbey Farwell Brown, it’s the story of a lonely and bitter spinster who returns to happiness through a box of old toys. The commissioned new holiday musical is a collaboration of longtime musical collaborators and married couple Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith (lyrics and book). creativecauldron.org

In keeping with the Yuletide spirit, the National Theatre presents two feel-good national tour musicals. First, it’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” (through Dec. 5), a musical take on Dr. Seuss’ classic holiday tale featuring the hit songs “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome Christmas.”

Next up is “Tootsie” (Dec. 7-12), the hit musical based on the 1982 gender-bending film starring Dustin Hoffman as an out-of-work actor who disguises himself as a woman to land a role on a popular soap opera. The show boasts a Tony-winning book by Robert Horn and a score by Tony winner David Yazbek (The Band’s Visit). thenationaldc.com

Keegan Theatre presents its annual holiday offering, “An Irish Carol” (Dec. 10-31). Set in a modern Dublin pub, the funny yet poignant original work (a nod to Dickens) tracks the changes in the life of a rich but miserable publican over the course of one Christmas Eve. keegantheatre.org

At Theater J, it’s the Kinsey Sicks’ “Oy Vey in a Manger” (Dec. 17-25). Blending drag, four-part harmony, and political humor, the “dragapella beautyshop quartet” brings its own hilariously irreverent view on the holidays. theaterj.org

And through Jan. 2, Signature Theatre continues to brighten the season with its production of Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” directed by the company’s out artistic director Matthew Gardiner and featuring out actor David Merino as Angel, a preternaturally energetic drag queen and percussionist. sigtheare.org

The Music Center at Strathmore, also in Bethesda, is presenting a wide range of musical holiday offerings including “Manheim Steamroller Christmas” (Dec. 3 and 4), a multimedia holiday tradition; Sarah Brightman in “A Christmas Symphony” (Dec. 6 and 7); “A Celtic Christmas with Séan Heely Celtic Band” (Dec. 11); Washington Bach Consort’s “Bach’s Epic Christmas Oratorio” (Dec. 11); the beloved “The Washington Chorus: A Candlelight Christmas” (Dec. 16 and 17); and last but not least “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” (Dec. 20), Tchaikovsky’s classic reimagined with MC Kurtis Blow (“White Lines”). strathmore.org

And finally, something strictly for the kids: Imagination Stage presents “Corduroy” (Dec. 11-Jan. 24). Based on the beloved children’s books by Don Freeman, it’s the heartwarming story of a girl and her perfectly imperfect Teddy Bear. Best for ages 3-9. imaginationstage.org

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Music & Concerts

BETTY returns to DC

Queer band to perform at City Winery Dec. 5

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BETTY (Photo by Gene Reed, 2021)

Pop-rock band BETTY is returning to their District homeland for a holiday show at City Winery on Dec. 5.  

Fronted by Alyson Palmer and sisters Elizabeth and Amy Ziff, the band who are “rule breakers” and “equality rockers” have been touring, writing, and advocating for social change through their music since 1986. The band has been featured in shows like “The L Word” and “Encyclopedia,” and created their own off-Broadway show “BETTY RULES.”

The D.C. show will kick off a tour that will bring the band to New York City, Cincinnati, and New Hope, Pa. Elizabeth, who identifies as lesbian, said it’s been “incredible” to be in rehearsals for shows again after the pandemic put a hold on live music.  

“We’ve been together for so long. We are a family and we hang out and we’re friends and we play music together,” she said. “It’s our life.”

Amy, who is queer, said she’s excited to perform in the District where the band originally formed. 

“It’s so emotional because it’s where we grew up,” she said. “Not just musically, but it’s where we came out.”

Proof of vaccination is required at all shows. To purchase tickets, visit citywinery.com.

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Music & Concerts

We waited eons for this? New Diana album is colossal disappointment

Saccharine sentiments sink largely self-penned effort from diva supreme

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Diana Ross’s new project ‘Thank You,’ while hopeful and optimistic, is too musically weak to catch fire after the one-two punch of its opening cuts. (Image courtesy Decca)

Diana Ross’s solo albums are almost always inconsistent.

This isn’t unusual among R&B/pop divas; start wading past the hits and the same could be said for the album tracks of Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, et. al.

The few times she’s made a start-to-finish solid effort, like 1991’s “The Force Behind the Power,” 1995’s “Take Me Higher” or even 1985’s “Eaten Alive,” which works even with its campy title cut, they’ve never been huge sellers or featured any of her trademark hits.

However — and it pains me to say this — you have to go all the way back to 1983’s “Ross” to find an album as bad as her new release “Thank You” (★½ out of four), her first album in 15 years and her first of new material in 22 years. Pre-COVID, she was highly active with touring (and played the D.C. region many times), but her studio work had ground to a total halt.

A few things trickled out from the vault, like 2006’s delightful jazz album “Blue” (recorded in the early ’70s), but there was nothing new. And while it was always great to see her on stage — she looks fabulous at 77 (although you’d never know it from the vintage photo used on the “Thank You” cover) — her show varied little from year to year and her vocals were occasionally pitchy.

So while it’s great to finally have something new from the Motown legend — a studio workhorse all through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s — this extremely uneven new album is a musical Hallmark turd that never met a feel-good lyrical cliche too saccharine or an easy listening musical bed too insipid.

It’s hard to place too much of the blame on Troy Miller (a veteran of Amy Winehouse’s band), who produced the bulk of the tracks here, as Ross’s fingerprints are all over it — she’s billed as executive producer and, in a career first, she co-wrote nine of the 13 cuts. Though she took a few songwriting credits here and there over the years (she co-wrote four songs on her 1982 album “Silk Electric”), on most of her albums, her songwriting contributions are zero. And although two of those — the bouncy title cut and second single “If the World Just Danced” — are unequivocally the project’s best tracks, Joni Mitchell she is not.

Here’s the good news — she sounds amazing. There’s a lustrous quality to her vocal work here, her range is truly impressive and the pitch never wavers. Some scoff, but I have always felt Ross is a great pop singer with considerable range and impressive interpretive abilities in a wide gulf of genres. She was never a Whitney or Celine, but she could coo (“Baby Love”), yearn (“Cryin’ My Heart Out for You”), burn (“Muscles”) and growl (“Swept Away”) as well as anyone. This album’s “Time to Call,” though weak, gives her a chance to unfurl several melismas in her highest register and she kills it.

Stylistically, while varied, the album as a whole is numbingly mellow. Three cuts (the solid “If the World Just Danced,” retro shuffle “I Still Believe” and horn-laden abomination “Tomorrow”) are dance tracks and almost all the rest could legitimately be dubbed easy listening. There’s cascading string work, decent (if hardly impressive) production and stylistic variation, but the flame dies out after the first two songs and, with such banal lyrics and painfully unimaginative melodies, never comes close to reigniting despite Ross’s conviction. It’s like seeing a truly good actress in a turkey of a play knowing she co-wrote it. You’re rooting for her, but you’ve spent most of the outing wincing.

One might argue saccharine and Ross have gone hand in hand back to the days of “Reach Out and Touch” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” — true — but it’s taken to a new low here. Of course, nobody expected Deepak Chopra-caliber insight, but with clunkers like “what is isn’t/what isn’t is” (on the Ross co-penned “All is Well”), “I’ll be the pillow where your head will lay,” (on daughter Rhonda’s “Count on Me”) or “the first time I saw your face …” (on mother’s ode “Beautiful Love”) — ripping off a lyric that blatantly should be illegal — this album’s scaffolding is so weak, one positively groans at the amateurishness of the songcraft. This is the chorus of “Count on Me”: “count on me/count on me/count on me/count on me.”

Siedah Garrett, a respected songwriter who might have momentarily elevated the proceedings, delivers one of the album’s worst cuts with the nauseatingly treacly “The Answer’s Always Love.”
I could go on, but you get the idea.

One might also argue, hey, couldn’t we use a little positivity today? Cut Miss Ross some slack and just be glad she’s back. True perhaps, but with material this weak and the thought of what this album could have been in more daring, imaginative hands, it’s downright frustrating.

With little chance of making any kind of dent on U.S. (or U.K. for that matter) pop radio and in her late 70s, I’d hoped Miss Ross, with no fucks left to give, might have done something brash and daring, but this is called playing it safe folks and sadly it’s a yawnfest.

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