There’s a lot of Cher to share in The Cher Show on Broadway, so much that it takes three Chers. Nineteen-year-old Micaela Diamond, who grew up in Margate, plays the youngest one, the Babe.
Her costar Jarrod Spector, 37, who plays Sonny Bono, is a Meadowbrook native, Germantown Academy grad, and Philly to the core.
Spector has been singing since he was “about three and a half, when I was on [WPVI’s] Al Alberts Showcase.” By 6, he was on Star Search with Ed McMahon.
She’s a newbie, he’s a Broadway vet. Both have traveled fascinating journeys from their local roots to starring roles in one of Broadway’s glitteriest, stompingest, best-dressed musicals. (The Bob Mackie gowns have already ignited Tony talk.) But they’ll always have the Jersey Shore.
“We first bonded over Margate,” says Diamond, backstage at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre just before they don costumes for The Cher Show.
“My family used to stay at the Breakers Hotel at Ventnor, and then they got a place in Margate,” Spector says. “I grew up arguing which was better: Sack O’Subs, Dino’s, or White House.” (That’s the Down the Shore equivalent of the Geno’s vs. Pat’s battle, only closer to the water.)
At this point in the two actors’ day, each has already put in two hours in the gym, and now here comes the show, with its nonstop dancing, singing, and costume changes. “I am so tired,” Diamond says, “all the time, but I love waking up, ready and scared, to do it again every day.”
Both say the real Cher has been open and supportive all the way.
“She told me, ‘The funny thing is, I’m painfully shy,' Diamond says. On opening night, real Cher joined the show’s three Chers and the rest of the cast in the finale.
Growing up in Margate, Diamond basically wore out every dance teacher around, so her mom started a dance school and staffed it with teachers in order to allow her daughter to keep hoofing.
The family moved to New York a decade ago. At one point, Diamond was about to go off to study musical theater at Carnegie Mellon University. Oh, but, look, here’s an audition for The Cher Show. “So I went and tried out,” she says, “and I thought I totally blew it, OK?” Evidently not.
She opened in The Cher Show, her first Broadway role, on Dec. 3. She doesn’t even turn 20 until July. “I know, right? I’m the luckiest girl,” Diamond says.
Even crazier, in between audition and opening night, she landed an ensemble role in NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert in April. She also understudied for Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene, “and there I am, canoodling with John Legend.”
Does she see any parallels between herself and Cher, who started her career in her teens? “Oh,” she says, “I totally can feel a lot of what she was going through.”
Diamond shares the Cher role in the production with Teal Wicks as the TV-and-film-era Cher and the monumental Stephanie J. Block as the mature Cher, who narrates. Some of the show’s best bits are conversations across time between and among the Chers.
The show is a lot of loud, bright, over-the-top craziness, with tree-top performances from Diamond, Spector, all available Chers, and the supporting cast. (If you score a ticket, watch for Emily Skinner, who plays Cher’s mom and also a “cameo” as a tough Lucille Ball. Watch, too, for Ashley Blair Fitzgerald, absolutely stunning as she dances to “Dark Lady.”)
Mackie recreates his wild, purposely tasteless, often hilarious (and also often wondrous) wardrobe, all peekaboo glitz, tinsel, rhinestones, feathers, and strip-club showbiz.
Getting fitted for the over-the-top gowns by Mackie was a thrill, Diamond says. “You’re wearing these gown prototypes made of faux material and held in place with pins,” she says, “and he comes up and draws on you where he wants the lines to be. It’s all harmonious, the way he does it. Those gowns are such a huge part of who Cher is.”
The young Cher’s struggle to free herself from Sonny Bono was one of the best-known secrets of the 1970s. “It’s cool to be retelling her story now,” Diamond says, “because the world needs to re-remember how to listen to women, in a big way.”
Diamond wasn’t around for the Sonny & Cher hits like “I Got You Babe,” of course, and had not yet been born when Cher’s 1998 AutoTune hit “Believe” re-re-reignited her career. So when did she first become aware of Cher?
“Oh, god, it was Burlesque,” Diamond says, naming that 2010 film with Cher and Christina Aguilera. “I grew up post-DVDs pretty much. The only DVD I own, and I still have, is Burlesque. I must have watched it 58 times. I was like 9 years old, memorizing all the sexy dances Christina Aguilera did. This is my Burlesque 2.”
After Al Alberts and Star Search, the musical-theater beat went on for Spector. By age 10, he was playing Gavroche in Les Misérables on Broadway. At Germantown Academy, he was a member of the hallowed Belfry Club, spawning grounds for talents such as Bradley Cooper and Brian Klugman.
He lasted two years at Princeton before he obeyed fate and bolted for Broadway.
He looks as though he’s about 23. But in fact, at almost twice Diamond’s age, he’s had a lot more Cher in his life. “There are certain songs of hers and Sonny & Cher’s that you have to be absolutely unaware of American culture not to know,” he says, naming “I Got You Babe,” “If I Could Turn Back Time,” and “Believe” for three.
“I didn’t grow up a Cher aficionado, but when I was cast in this show, I realized I was aware of just about every song. And then to find out she sang background on some of my favorites, like the Righteous Brothers’ ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.’ ”
An expert on the music of his parents’ generation, Spector has been called the King of the Jukebox Musical. (Definition: a production that takes a bunch of hit tunes, often written or performed by the same person or team, and weaves it around a story.)
He played songwriter Barry Mann in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Broadway, and, with his durable, stratospheric, beautifully controlled voice, played Frankie Valli (more than any other performer has) in Jersey Boys, first in the original Chicago cast and then on Broadway.
He and wife Kelli Barrett have also created a two-person cabaret act titled This Is Dedicated: Music’s Greatest Marriages. (Yes, it includes Sonny and Cher.) And he’s done a solo show covering everyone from Enrico Caruso to Bruno Mars.
The Cher Show cleverly works songs and fragments around turning points in Cher’s life. That’s easy, thanks to Cher’s knack of choosing songs that stand for her. Line up her hits and you already have a jukebox autobiography.
“If you’re doing shows like this,” Spector says, “you’re forced to study it all. I had to learn the music and all the stories around it, the cliques, the collaborations, the rivalries."
For The Cher Show, that involved the complex figure of Sonny Bono, Cher’s partner, producer, husband, ex, and bệte noir, who died in 1998 from injuries suffered in a skiing accident.
“It’s a sensitive thing,” Spector says. “By 2018 standards, yes, he was a chauvinist, a controller. But we wanted to show his business mind, how he wrote hit songs even though he could play maybe only seven chords on the piano.”
Cher shared with Spector her own thoughts on how the real Sonny might have reacted to The Cher Show’s portrayal of him. “She told me that Sonny would love this show," Spector says. "Not that he’d love every minute in it, but he’d be thrilled to see himself represented up there.”
The Cher Show