LAS VEGAS -- Like the temples of the ancient Roman world that it simulates, the Colosseum at Caesars Palace is an environment suited to extravagant immortals. The artists who've graced its huge stage have all achieved that status in which one name not only serves but also explains and expands upon whatever the star projects.
First there was Celine, clean and lean, selling every song with unmatchable melodrama. Then came Elton, whose eloquence (if not always elegance) weighs a ton. Later, there was Bette, and you can bet on her -- she's the go-to girl for solid showbiz flair.
Tuesday night, the ultimate Colosseum dweller arrived. Cher -- the cherished icon of pop reinvention, beloved by freaks and squares, gay liberationists and straight soccer moms, Netflix-renting couch potatoes and rump-shaking disco denizens -- used every possible corner of the stage (as well as several huge screens and the walls) to present a signature performance based upon her larger-than-life story, a mythology of self-reinvention in which we can all . . . oh, you get the idea.
Cher's occupation of the Colosseum, where she will play 200 shows over the next three years (rotating with the aforementioned Bette Midler and Elton John), is the most appropriate thing to happen to Las Vegas since rumors started flying that rock 'n' roll magician Criss Angel was dating former Playboy Playmate Pamela Anderson.
Like Vegas itself, the 62-year-old queen of over-the-top pizazz bridges several eras of entertainment. Since the 1960s, when she and her former husband, the late Sonny Bono, transformed from would-be folkies into mainstream translators of the counterculture, this singer-actress-fashion extremist has crossed a surprising number or musical boundaries.
She found new commercial appeal in classic pop forms, such as women's blues and burlesque, by linking them to hippie rock, pop rock and disco; though her mega-hits aren't that numerous, she's managed to make a commercial mark in every decade. What grounds her many incarnations is a sexy unpretentiousness that's straight out of the Mae West handbook.
Lavish costumes and sets
"I'm old, but I'm tough," she said after floating from the rafters to the stage on a sparkling contraption she called "the Flying Wallenda Evel Knievel Deathmobile," wearing a huge feathered headdress and singing U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." The elaborate entrance established that this Cher show would be bigger and better than the others; the endearingly rambling monologue that followed assured fans that this was still the same old Cher.
The show was lavish, nonstop fun, with the usual array of outlandish Bob Mackie costumes and stage sets that reworked Cher's story as a spangled fantasy. The content will be familiar to anyone who's seen her last few tours. There was a medley of the Sonny Bono-era hits, with appropriate costume changes -- a Gypsy outfit for "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" and a floor-length feather headdress and a loincloth for "Half Breed." More recent songs, such as "If I Could Turn Back Time" and the must-have closer "Believe" (perhaps the greatest disco song written after the alleged death of disco), filled out the set list, along with covers she's long favored, like "Love Hurts."
Screen montages paid tribute to Cher's television and film career, with special, sentimental emphasis on Sonny. The onstage activity was as intense as the onscreen collage effect. Her live band behaved like rockers, with flashy guitar solos and hot moves, even when the music was dominated by dance beats. Eighteen dancers raced about in varieties of costume: leatherette, pom-pom wigs, sequins, of course. Aerial acrobatics, an element in Cher's last tour, found a special niche now that she's down the block from several Cirque du Soleil shows.
Highlights included a lovely aerial pas de deux and another routine that can only be described as goth mountain climbing. This business was entertaining, though some of it clearly existed to allow Cher time to climb into another one of those Mackie get-ups.
Though she remains in decent voice, Cher didn't place that much focus on her singing, going big and torchy on only a couple of ballads delivered fairly late in the show from inside a giant, glittery pearl. She seemed more eager to integrate herself into dance routines or to display her costumes in old-fashioned tableaux vivants than to take any diva spins as a singer.
Underrated as a vocalist, perhaps because her dusky contralto is so different from the songbird voice most female pop stars cultivate, Cher has always diverted attention from her singing skills. She's also at the age when a strong note can easily turn sharp and brassy. At times, she seemed to be laying back, maybe to avoid a screech.