Metro Weekly

Turning Back Time: Cher at MGM National Harbor (Review)

In her new, retrospective concert, Cher dumps politics in favor of song, story and extravagant spectacle

The last time she was in town, for the National Women’s March in January, Cher’s plans to speak from the stage about matters of the day were foiled by a stage manager’s snafu. Two months later, she’s back in Washington, though this time is willfully avoiding using the stage as a political pulpit. She would likely be preaching to the choir anyway at The Theater at MGM National Harbor, judging by the crowd at Monday night’s show.

Considering this is Washington, one may balk at the superstar’s decision to refrain from engaging in politics while appearing in concert, coming as it does in contrast to her general outspokenness on the subject elsewhere, including Twitter. But no matter. You’ll fall under Cher’s spell instantly, from the moment the purple velvet curtains pull back on a stage fit for an Arabian fairytale. Soon enough, Cher, in Queen of Sheba garb, descends from the heavens on a gold-framed aerial platform, singing her truth a la “Woman’s World.” That No. 1 hit on the Billboard dance chart from 2013 is the newest in an 18-song setlist spanning an impressive fifty years.

With “Classic Cher” (★★★★) the diva’s focus is solely on song, story and spectacle. It’s a showcase of awe-inspiring staging and state-of-the-art light and projection designs in general. It’s a showcase of Cher and her decades-long, multi-genre, multi-award-winning career as one of the very best and most personable entertainers in the business.

The most remarkable thing about the 90-minute encounter is the undeniable, impressive fact that a half-century later, Cher still has the chops, the charisma, the looks, and the outfits. “What’s your granny doing tonight?” Cher teased after acknowledging her age of 70 years. Very few grannies look, act or move with as much vim and vigor as Cher. Take, for example, the girlish strut, even the momentary skip, she breaks into during “If I Could Turn Back Time” while wearing a Bob Mackie-designed leather thong conversation piece from the 1989 video. “Your legs are fierce,” a man cooed at the top of the show, as Cher donned another thigh-revealing sequined number — the first in a total of 12 costumes, all Mackie-designed originals.

Naturally, that made for many costume changes — and some of the Cher-less interludes as she changes wear on a bit. The best of these focused on footage from Cher’s long and varied career in TV and film, starting with The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour and including her Oscar-recognized work in Moonstruck and Silkwood (in which she played a lesbian). One particular letdown of an interlude came during Cher’s penultimate costume change of the night. Teased with a sample of the 1966 hit “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” it becomes little more than a screeching solo improvised by the electric guitarist. He quickly follows that up with yet another amped-up solo, though this time on cue, per the recorded bridge to the mawkish “I Found Someone.” Excessive showboating aside, the skilled guitarist and his cohorts in the five-piece band support Cher ably in traversing her repertoire.

Portions of Cher’s vocals are pre-recorded, resulting in some clearly lip-synched moments. But anyone who says she isn’t also singing live throughout the whole show clearly isn’t paying attention. And I don’t just mean that there are cases here and there when she hits an obvious false note, or stumbles ever-so-slightly on lyrics, such as with the first verse to “Strong Enough.” Her contralto is as strong and full as ever — essentially as it sounds on record — yet to hear her voice live is to appreciate that it isn’t perfect. It’s more sturdy than steady. As a result, Cher often sounds a bit more vulnerable, which works to her advantage in songs such as the emotive ballad “After All,” the ’80s duet with Peter Cetera, as well as on her soulful cover of “Walking in Memphis.”

Her trusty troupe of nearly a dozen performers do most of the dancing in the show, and to be honest, a fair portion of the choreography is cheesy and uninspired. Yet the dancers did step up their game as the show progressed and were in fine form for the encore, an extended version of “Believe” that featured EDM flourishes and a top-notch laser light show. Talk about going out with a bang.

Cher next performs Thursday, March 23, Saturday, March 25, and Sunday, March 26, at 8 p.m., at The Theater at MGM National Harbor, 7100 Oxon Hill Rd., Md. Remaining tickets are $109 to $686. Call 301-971-5000 or visit mgmnationalharbor.com.

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Classic Cher at MGM National Harbor
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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.