Many big-name acts have performed at Newcastle Entertainment Centre over the years but a packed house is by no means guaranteed. Why? I have no idea.
What I do know is that I approach a concert at the venue with some trepidation, hoping not to see row after row of empty seats. Or the stage moved forward as it was when Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds performed there last year. This was Nick Cave, people! Where were you?
On Wednesday night, though, a sea of people already waiting outside immediately put my mind at ease. Some were dressed in coloured sequins, fishnet stockings and elaborate wigs, others in work attire, but they were all there to see Cher – and they were there an hour early.
The concert kicked off with a large screen showed songs, rare footage and interviews to the tune of Cher’s song Woman’s World, providing a snapshot of her career. Then the woman herself started singing along, an elaborate Roman gladiator set was revealed and dancers rushed onstage.
But where was Cher? Suspended above the stage, wearing a huge orange wig, head piece and a shimmering Greek goddess-inspired dress.
It was the first of many, many costume and set changes. This was a Las Vegas spectacle not often seen in little ol’ Broadmeadow.
Strong Enough was next, then we got to know a little more about the talented and sensitive woman behind Cher the brand: Cherilyn Sarkisian.
“Hold on, my wig and I are thirsty,” the Oscar and Grammy award winner said before launching into a series of amusing and self-deprecating anecdotes. There were no airs and graces here.
“In 1965 Sonny and I were very famous but our careers nosedived and we owed the government $275,000. Sonny said we had to do something different, like dinner theatres. I was thinking Paris but our shows were crap and we performed seven nights a week, sometimes more.
“People were like ‘Oh my god, they suck’ and kept eating. One night I got pissed off and turned around to the band and made them laugh. We weren’t interested in the four people watching. And that’s how the Sonny and Cher show came about.”
Her next story was about “the two nights it took me to turn 40”. One of the nights she was out with her best friend Polly, about to star in a movie with 21-year-old Nicholas Cage, and generally feeling fabulous. That same night she met “the cutest guy I’d ever seen” – Robert Cammiletti. They hit it off and were an item for three years.
Her second “turning 40” story involved director George Miller. “He called me up and said ‘I don’t want you in my movie. Jack (Nicholson) and I think you’re not sexy and you’re too old. I don’t like your face or the way you talk or walk’. Now I had done a little film called Silkwood and another called Mask, but I was in tears. My kids walked in and asked me why I was crying on my birthday and I said ‘When you’re a woman and you’re older and you’re very, very happy, you cry’.”
The movie was The Witches of Eastwick. And Cher got the role. Another anecdote stemmed from owing a friend $27,000 and being asked to go on The David Letterman Show. Cher said yes – if they’d pay her $28,000.
“I went on the show dressed like a bag lady for some reason, and when he asked why I hadn’t been on the show before I replied: ‘Because I thought you were an arsehole’. But we became friends. I’m not 40 any more but I did just do a five-minute plank. Anyway, what is your granny doing tonight?”
All or Nothing was up next, with Cher riding a bejeweled elephant. Footage from the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour followed, and Cher sang two duets with Sonny (who was singing on the screen). It sounds cheesy but it was actually quite touching and extremely well executed. The songs were I Got You Babe (you might have heard of it) and The Beat Goes On.
“I wondered if I should do that first song than I was like ‘Bitch you’re 500 years old, just do it. It’s your farewell tour’,” she said.
Then there was Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves, Believe, an Aztec-themed You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me and Welcome To Burlesque with some cheeky choreography. A few ABBA hits prompted a crowd singalong – Fernando was particularly memorable. Scenes from movies Cher has starred in were played, ending with footage of her accepting an Oscar while saying she never truly fit in with the singers or the actors – but that maybe she was “on her way”. We all cheered.
Cher also paid homage to Elvis Presley with a rendition of Walking In Memphis by Marc Cohn, and telling a story about how her mother took her to see The King as a young girl. Their voices are, actually, remarkably similar. The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss) from Mermaids was next, and then the grand finale – I’ve Found Someone and If I Could Turn Back Time. Whitesnake guitarist Joel Hoekstra, who had been sedately strumming with the band, was finally given his moment of glory – and rock out he did.
Yes, Cher wore that famous fishnet body stocking but with a more modest use of material this time around. Not that she needed it. Cher is not only in good voice, but in great shape.
This was a grand spectacle of colour and dance with seamless set and costume changes: a visual feast that captivated from start to finish. It was also personal – a rags to riches story of a woman who had to reinvent herself to survive in a cut-throat industry. And she did it all with poise and wit.
Cher is a class act and, at 72, a performer without peer.