How do you choreograph the life of a dance floor goddess like Cher? With respect, flair—and a lot of skin, if you’re choreographer Christopher Gattelli, who earned an Outer Critics Circle nomination for his decades-spanning work on The Cher Show at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre.
Of course there was more to Cher’s story than just recreating the immediately identifiable hits. “We definitely wanted to keep certain songs in the style they were because you don’t want to stray too far,” Gattelli says. But other songs became prime candidates for a revamp in order to advance Cher’s story, in particular a show-stopping, seven-minute-long version of “The Beat Goes On” late in Act 2 that covers Cher’s acting career from laughingstock to Oscar winner.
Performed by Micaela Diamond as the youngest Cher, the number has new lyrics about Cher’s time in Hollywood and a Broadway razzle-dazzle rhythm and style that culminates in Diamond high-kicking across the stage. And that was pure chance.
“When we gave [the role] to Micaela, I didn’t really know her as a dancer,” Gattelli says. “She’s such an incredible singer and actor, we didn’t dance her for the role. Then when we were creating it, I said, ‘Is there anything I should know before I start tailor fitting it for you?’ And she said, ‘I’m really flexible.’” Two high kicks later—“both legs cracked her face,” he marvels—Diamond had a new show-stopping, jaw-dropping moment in a show stuffed with them.
But perhaps the most memorable number in The Cher Show is one that doesn’t feature Cher at all. Instead, it finds husbands one and two—Sonny Bono and Gregg Allman—singing “Dark Lady” as featured dancer Ashley Blair Fitzgerald partners with the male ensemble members in a gravity-defying tango. And in classic show biz fashion, it was the hardest dance for Gattelli to create.
“It’s already a story song,” he says. “It was the last number I came up with because I was putting so much pressure on myself.” It wasn’t until listening to the original song and its classic hand claps that Gattelli had the idea for a tango, a black widow, and a murderers’ row of handsome men she leaves for dead at a moment in the show when Cher is walking away from both Sonny and Gregg. “That was a stroke of luck that we had a company that was that versatile and that fearless,” Gattelli marvels. “Between [Ashley] and the men being willing and so trusting and that kind of collaboration, it was so much fun to put together. I’m really proud of it.”
And audiences are thankful that Gattelli served up choreography as sexy, witty, and outrageous as Cher herself.