How A Broadway Musical About Cher Is Empowering Women
An ode to Stephanie J. Block saying “I’m a goddamn Goddess Warrior!” eight times a week.
A lot of things probably come to mind when you think about Cher: sequins, Sonny, auto-tune, power ballads, tweets featuring a questionable amount of emojis.
At the Neil Simon Theatre in New York City, all of these iconic features of Cher are being portrayed in sparkly, skin-tight glory eight times a week. In fact, Cher’s life is so rich and layered that not one, not two, but three women spend two and a half hours telling the seven-decade long story of Cherilyn Sarkisian.
With costumes designed by the legendary Bob Mackie himself, vocals so mind-blowing you could cry (I have!), and a theatre-wide dance party that openly invites audiences to get on their feet, there’s a lot to love about “The Cher Show” — but by far, my favorite thing about it is the empowering message it sends to women and the palpable effect that message is having on the audience.
“The Cher Show” takes audiences through all the good times and bad times of Cher — from the shy 7-year-old Cher that’s being bullied at school for her half-Armenian identity, to the Cher who takes the world by storm at the tender age of 19 along with her first husband Sonny Bono, to the Cher who suddenly can’t get a job and owes the government over $200,000, to the twice-divorced Cher who is doing hairspray infomercials, all the way to present-day Cher who is 73 and on a world tour.
It’s easy to look at Cher now and just see the no-fucks-given attitude, but “The Cher Show” strips the pop goddess down to her roots and shows the audience a nuanced portrayal of the painfully shy girl who grew up being called a “half-breed,” the exceptionally famous young adult who had to learn how to survive in a man’s world, and the middle-aged woman who has millions of Twitter followers and dozens of top hits under her belt, but still gets scared shitless sometimes.
The first time I saw “The Cher Show,” I left the theater feeling like something inside me had irrevocably shifted. It sounds cliché, and perhaps it is, but I’ve struggled my entire life with feeling like I don’t fit in — from always being the new girl at school as a result of the constant moving around I did thanks to an unstable family situation, to being gay in a small town, to feeling like I was too vulnerable and felt too much — there was always something in my life that made me feel like an outsider.
But after two and a half hours spent with three Cher’s — expertly played by Stephanie J. Block, Teal Wicks, and Micaela Diamond — something clicked and I suddenly had an entirely different outlook on my life and experiences.
I was thrilled to discover that the show caused a similar shift of perspective in hundreds of other women as well.
Shortly after “The Cher Show” opened on Broadway this past December, women started expressing how the vulnerability and power (two qualities that the show takes great pride in showing are not mutually exclusive) present in the portrayals of Cher were affecting them the way any modern woman would: via Twitter.
Women started sending tweets to “The Cher Show” star Stephanie J. Block about the confidence, bravery, and strength that they were leaving the theater with.
A fan suggested creating a hashtag for the show’s loyal audience to use to share their stories on how the musical was influencing them, and thus #TheCherShowEffect was born.
For the past few months, women’s stories have filled the hashtag with odes to “The Cher Show” and the gifts it has given them: the confidence to nail a job interview, the strength to get over a tough break-up, the inspiration to pursue a different path in life that comes with a lot of risk and unknowns.
One theme of the show that seems to have stuck with many women is that of the “Goddess Warrior” — early in the show, Stephanie J. Block as Cher confidently declares “I’m a goddamn Goddess Warrior!” As the show turns back time and shows all that Cher went through on her way to the top, on the plummet down to the bottom, and back up to the top again, audiences see that she’s not just a “Goddess Warrior” despite everything she went through, but because of everything she went through.
As line spoken as Cher is reflecting on her life — “You win some, you learn some” — resonates deeply. She has made mistakes, she has lacked confidence, she has risen and fallen (and fallen again), and she has been a Goddess Warrior through it all.
The online community of “The Cher Show” fans/Goddess Warriors is filled with kind, strong, and resilient women from all different backgrounds. I learned even more about the strength of those in the community when I announced on Twitter that I was working on this article and that my inbox was open if anyone had stories to share. Shortly after, a young fan of the show named Zoe reached out with a raw and honest account of how the show has helped her.
Zoe’s mom unexpectedly passed away in 2017, leaving her struggling to find happiness in her life. This past March, Zoe’s sorority was having a weekend-long event dedicated to the sorority members’ moms, so she decided to get away for the weekend.
Zoe’s father suggested a trip to New York City, letting Zoe and her brother each pick a Broadway show that they wanted to see. Zoe’s brother chose the Bryan Cranston-led “Network,” and Zoe chose “The Cher Show” — a choice that changed her life.
“Once the show started, something changed — I don’t know what kind of magic is in that building, but all the sadness inside me got sucked up and out like a vacuum. Each of the Cher’s resonated with me, which was extremely special.”
Although Zoe loves the entire show, she credits two songs in particular in helping her cope with her grief: “Song for the Lonely” and “Strong Enough” — the former closes out Act I, and the latter is a quiet, stripped down version of the original record. The lyrics of both songs preach strength and resilience.
“The show is truly magical, and I urge anyone going through something — from a break up to a death — to go see it.”
For myself, “The Cher Show” taught me so many important lessons in two and a half hours that I’ve spent nearly 23 years trying to learn.
Everything I have been through made me stronger.
Vulnerability isn’t a weakness, but a strength.
Fitting in is overrated.
I can do absolutely anything.
And the best lesson of all: a musical about a pop diva that tweets photos of people who cut her off in traffic can change lives.