Divas' Las Vegas
Cher, J-Lo shows wow Sin City
by Jim Gladstone
Do you believe in life after Cher?
"This is our last goodbye, it's true," she sang in "Strong Enough," the second number in her thundering glitterstorm of a new show, Classic Cher, which opened last Wednesday night to a giddy Las Vegas crowd of just over 5,000 at the Monte Carlo Resort's Park Theater.
But who knows what to believe when it comes to comebacks by our dear, dithering diva. After all, its been a dozen years since Cher announced her official Farewell Tour.
That trek was followed by a three-year, 192-show Vegas residency at Caesar's Colosseum, just down the Strip from her current digs. Then, in 2014, there were five months of Dressed to Kill tour dates.
And now, after a couple years of unsubstantiated rumors about disastrous finances and declining health, she's back, in undiminished splendor.
Also back, and sure to delight those audience members who haven't had a chance to catch the iconic performer over the past decade, are many of the over-the-top props, Bob Mackie-designed costumes, and scenic elements featured in Cher's recent outings.
Glittery gondola? Check.
Hunky dancers in gladiator mufti? Check.
Life-size papier-maché elephant? Check.
Ribbon-spinning aerialists? Check.
Big chunks of the set list from the Dressed to Kill tour also remain intact, including a sequence of "Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves," "Dark Lady," and "Half-Breed" performed in front of Wild West carnival backdrops, the latter once again sung in a four-foot-long pastel-feathered Native American headdress. (Cher may be the last person on earth who can get away with such a get-up. Then again, the Washington Redskins aren't half as fabulous).
If you haven't seen a Cher show since vocoders first became trendy – or if you're an avid fan, like the dozen-plus Cher-alike drag queens spotted in the opening night crowd –this iteration is a must. The spectacle is scaled for arenas, but because it's being played in a venue the size of a large Broadway theater, the experience is like pickaxing a sensory motherlode. (The show is slated to run exclusively at the Park in Las Vegas and at the even smaller new MGM National Harbor Theater outside of Washington, D.C. An initial 27 performances have been scheduled through May, with further dates likely to be announced).
But if you're a less-than-fervid follower and have seen one of Cher's last couple of tours, it's important to set your expectations for some major diva déjá vu.
That said, Cher remains a powerhouse presence. The production-heavy razzle-dazzle of "Woman's World" and "I've Found Someone" continue to thrill. Her costumes and hairdos are eye-popping works of wonder: She enters in an afro wig big and round enough to have its own place in the solar system, and later wears a spangly pink, mons-anchored garment best described as a full-length vajazzle.
Yet the most moving moment in her opening night show came when, blonde-wigged and blue-jeaned, Cher delivered a straightforward, deeply resonant rendition of Marc Cohn's "Walking In Memphis." In her eyes, you could see a real engagement with the music and a genuine happiness about performing for an enthusiastic audience.
photo: Andrew Macpherson
Before ending the night, as an encore, Cher sang "If I Could Turn Back Time" in a strappy black bodysuit similar to the one she wore in her 'naval-gazing' 1989 video for the song (set on a battleship). Her dusky contralto voice, her statuesque 5' 9" inches, and her bemused non-chalance amidst a maelstrom of lighting and stage effects are reassuringly familiar as well.
Perhaps for Cher herself, now 70, and for longtime fans—including legions of gay men for whom she's been a consistent pop presence across six tumultuous decades ("I Got You Babe" was released in 1965), the turning back of time with copy-pasted elements of prior shows feels less like a rerun than a ritual, a chance to reconnect with past pleasures and share a sense of gratitude.
J-Los and highs
Meanwhile, just down the Strip at Planet Hollywood's Axis Theater, another indelible diva is making her mark.
No, it's not Britney.
Jennifer Lopez, whose life-sized, spread-legged image on the doors of the hotel's elevators seems to query "Going down?" is getting down with relentless, feral energy in her own Vegas residency, All I Have.
The show, featuring feathery fan dances, steamy striptease, and a quintet of jaw-dropping male dancers, serves up retro imagery to a hip-hop beat.
Planet Hollywood's Axis Theater.
photo: Denise Truscello
While Cher has never been much of a dancer and charms her audiences by swaying wryly to-and-fro and coolly strolling the stage as her troupe works its acrobatic asses off, J. Lo is a perpetual motion machine.
Having first come to fame through her footwork –and buttwork– as one of the Flygirls on television's In Living Color, Lopez now showcases her physical prowess for nearly two-hours, hustling through complex choreography, sliding across the stage on her knees, and high-kicking with Rockette-like aplomb.
Through her command of the company, Lopez makes it clear that sexiness need have nothing to do with submission.
"Who's in charge here?" she asks as she slinks along a line-up of her bare-chested male colleagues.
Lopez sings, too, of course. And while she's clearly reinforced by back-up vocalists, unlike Ms. Spears (who shares Lopez' venue, if not her work ethic), she doesn't lip sync.
While her catalog doesn't have the generation-spanning depth of Cher's, Lopez rolls out a surprising number of familiar hits, including "I'm Real," "On the Floor," "Booty," "Love Don't Cost a Thing," "Get Right," "Jenny from the Block."
There's no fakery when the choreography gets so fast and furious that singing simultaneously would be impossible. As her recorded vocals play in the background, Lopez dances with unapologetic athleticism, all steely eyes and tight tenacious grin.
The show's explosive final twenty minutes gets the audience on its feet with a cover of Celia Cruz' "Quimbara" and keeps them there with Lopez cheerleading a singalong of "Let's Get Loud" before barreling into a three-song encore of "Waiting for Tonight," "Dance Again," "On the Floor."
Lopez' sequined capes, white furs, and a cocktail dress that appears to be made of an unstrung chandelier, harken back to an earlier era of Vegas bombshells, but with an empowered contemporary twist. While Cher revisits Cher, J. Lo reinvents Ann-Margret and Raquel Welch.
'Classic Cher' plays the Monte Carlo Resort Park Theater in Las Vegas on select dates from February 18-25 and from May 3-20. The show will play at the MGM National Harbor Theater on select dates from March 17-26 and August 31-September 10. www.cher.com.
'Jennifer Lopez: All of Me' plays the Axis Theater at Planet Hollywood on select dates from February 17-25 and from May 24-28. www.jlovegas.com