Photos: Las Vegas News Bureau
Las Vegas has always demanded big personalities and big productions: Few can deliver on both of those counts like Cher. Still one of the definitive divas at 70, she launched a new residency at Park Theater at Monte Carlo February 8, accompanying her decades of pop hits with the extravagant staging and outrageous costumes that have become her trademark. Everyone has their favorite Cher moments—’70s Vogue Cher, cougar Cher, straddling an anti-aircraft gun in a thong on MTV Cher. Here are a few of ours …
(Sonny discovers) Cher
Aspiring star Cherilyn Sarkisian met wannabe impresario Salvatore “Sonny” Bono at a Los Angeles coffee shop in 1962. Bono was an assistant to music producer Phil Spector, back in his Wall of Sound glory days. Cher sang backup on several Spector hits, including the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”—it’s not hard to see traces of Ronnie Spector in Cher’s beehive and eyeliner, and shades of Phil in Sonny’s own Svengali act, including the early singles he produced for Cher. They went nowhere, as did their first duet as “Caesar and Cleo.” But, in the mid-1960s, the duo began recording as Sonny & Cher, with “I Got You Babe” coming out in 1965. And the rest is history.
TV Diva Cher
The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour was a TV hit from 1971–1974, but the real fun started when Cher shed that 5 feet 5 inches of deadweight and launched her own show, Cher. Working with legendary comedians such as Lily Tomlin allowed Cher to exercise her humor chops in a way that snickering at Sonny just didn’t, while musical guests let her go toe-to-toe and sequin-to-sequin with Tina Turner on a funky “Shame, Shame, Shame” or put on an orange wig to join David Bowie at his Thin White Duke peak and groove through a medley of ’50s/’60s pop classics that began and ended with “Young Americans.” Sonny came back in 1975, but things were more fun with just Cher.
Vegas Cher Mach 1
Cher launched her first solo tour in 1979 at Caesars Palace. She was hot off of her massive disco hit “Take Me Home”—you may recall the album cover, in which Cher wore a Dungeons & Dragons-esque metal bikini. The show featured a full band and orchestra, a mechanical bull, 12 bugle-beaded Bob Mackie costumes and a pair of drag queens dressed as Bette Midler and Diana Ross.
During the aerobicized ’80s, Cher appeared in commercials for Jack LaLanne’s fitness clubs—a 2-pound wig and 5-inch stilettos is workout wear as long as you’ve got legwarmers on. In the ’90s, Cher became a pitchwoman for celebrity hairstylist Lori Davis’ hair-care line: She was one of the first to sit on that soft-focus infomercial couch, extolling the virtues of leave-in conditioner—and ripe for parody by everyone from Saturday Night Live to Mystery Science Theater 3000. She went solo with Cher Aquasentials, a line of skin-care treatments in sapphire-blue bottles. Then there was Sanctuary, her gothic houseware catalog, selling items such as wrought-iron beds, chain-mail lampshades and gargoyle votive candles. Long before J-Lo’s perfume, Dre’s headphones, Gwyneth’s website and whatever the hell Yeezy is up to now, Cher was clocking the personal branding dollars.
If your only credits are two flop ’60s movies, stepping onto a Broadway stage to be directed by Robert Altman alongside veteran actresses might seem crazy. But that’s how Cher revived her acting career in 1982 with Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. It was a decidedly unglamorous role as a truck-stop waitress (which she reprised in the film adaptation of the play that same year), and Cher continued to eschew glitz for her next two film roles: Meryl Streep’s blue-collar lesbian roommate in Silkwood and the biker-mama mother of a disfigured boy in Mask. She won the best actress Oscar in 1987 for playing a Brooklyn widow in Moonstruck, and showed up to claim her prize dressed in what was basically a handful of black sequins. Cher still gonna Cher.
Recently, Cher has been an outspoken opponent of Donald Trump and his policies, speaking at rallies in New York City and Washington, D.C.—but her political involvement goes further back. She attended Jimmy Carter’s inauguration (then-husband Gregg Allman was a pal of POTUS No. 39) and performed for both Bill and Hillary Clinton. Cher has also long been an advocate for veteran’s causes, as well as an ally of the LGBT community, receiving a GLAAD award in 1998 and presenting one to her son Chaz Bono in 2012. She also understands that it takes more than words: Cher tweeted her outrage about the poisoned water in Flint, Michigan, and donated 180,000 bottles of water. Her sole directing credit is for a segment of the film If These Walls Could Talk, about a young woman’s choice to have an abortion, and it was recently announced that she will star in a Lifetime movie about the crisis in Flint.
Vegas Cher Mach 2
More than four decades after her Las Vegas debut—with Sonny at the Flamingo in 1967—Cher returned to Sin City with a residency in 2008. No longer part of a duo or trying to prove herself solo, this Vegas production offered a glitzy career retrospective, from “Half Breed” to “Believe.” Not one to rest on her laurels, Cher still had 13 costume changes, from showgirl feathers to vixen spandex, rode a Viking gondola and frolicked with dancers dressed up as Roman gladiators or Road Warrior extras.
Feb. 10, 11, 14, 18, 19, 22, 24 and 25; May 3, 5, 6, 10, 12, 13, 17, 19 and 20; 8 p.m., $55–$202; Park Theater, at Monte Carlo, montecarlo.com