Following six decades of stardom and over a hundred million records sold, Cher has done it all, and more besides, pop icon, Hollywood film star, Queen of reinvention and now she is the subject of her own musical.
So, let’s turn back time and follow the story of a young kid with big dreams, to the dizzying heights of global stardom as The Cher Show, makes its Wales debut at Cardiff’s New Theatre from August 23 to 27. The new hit musical will tell the incredible story of Cher’s meteoric rise to fame, through three aspects of her personality, Babe, Lady and Star, all flying in the face of convention at every turn.
Written by Rick Elice (responsible also for The Jersey Boys), The Cher Show is a brand-new UK production directed by the legendary Arlene Phillips, choreographed by Oti Mabuse with costumes by Gabriella Slade. It features over 35 of Cher’s greatest hits including The Shoop Shoop Song, I Got You Babe, If I Could Turn Back Time, Strong Enough and Believe and features three major stage stars in Debbie Kurup, Danielle Steers and Millie O’Connell as Cher.
Millie O’Connell recently took time out to chat to Andy Howells about the show.
How did you get into theatre?
I grew up on the Isle of Wight and every year or so from about the age of 13, I’d go over to the mainland to do a week’s Easter or summer course at a school. My parents were like “Oh my gosh this is what you’re going to do!”
I trained at the Gillian Cartwright School of Dance. My daily routine was going to school, get the bus to dancing, ballet, tap, jazz, all different styles! On Sunday’s I’d be singing, so there was a full array. When I was sixteen, I got my GCSE’s, moved off the island, then went to college. I graduated when I was nineteen and went straight to the industry! I did the Stephen Mear production of 42nd Street and I was ensemble cover Peggy Sawyer! Little nineteen-year-old me!
You were also Anne Boleyn in Six on the West End?
Yes! I was in the original cast with my girls in Six the Musical and we’re all now in a band! We opened in 2018 and then I left 2019. It’s beautiful because the show did so much for our lives and our careers, and it will always have a special place in my heart, especially originating something I think that’s special. I got my head chopped off quite a few times! (Laughs)
You’ve covered a lot of ground in the few years since then, especially with the emergence of a pandemic – where were you when that happened?
I was in a West End musical called Be More Chill with the original London cast, when we closed our show. During the pandemic I managed to do some shows which was amazing, take dance classes and form a band SVN with the original cast of Six the Musical who are literally my best friends. Then we came full circle when Be More Chill reopened at The Shaftsbury, where it had closed prior to the pandemic.
How did The Cher Show come about?
I heard The Cher Show was coming over from Broadway and I was like “Oh my gosh! It’s perfect! I have to book this show!” This was like two years before, then I realised Arlene Phillips was doing it. Arlene gave me my first job out of college. I did a TV show with her and ever since she’s followed everything I’ve done in my career. When I realised that she was doing The Cher Show I was like “Let’s do it! Let’s make magic!” She’s such an incredible woman! Arlene is like the fairy godmother everyone wishes for – she really is that to me!
Arlene saw me in Be More Chill playing a teenager. The penny dropped for both of us – The Cher Show! So, we went through the whole audition process, but I really did manifest this – I really wanted this job!
I understand there are three versions of Cher in this show.
I’ll try not to spoil it too much. You get a good insight into Cher, it’s so exciting. We take you through this incredible kind of time warp, it’s beautiful the way it’s done. You go through each era so I’m the first “Babe”, in which you see a young Cher right up until her early 20s.
Then you get the “Lady” played by Danielle Steers which plays out “The Sonny and Cher Show” era including the turmoil she experiences as well as some deep, beautiful, camp, exciting moments.
Debbie Kurup presents her as “Star” which takes the reinvented Cher of a new era right into the present day. During the show, the other two Cher’s are the subconscious and reveal how they would feel if it was them in that time era. There is so much in it and its one of the most incredible ensembles you’ll ever see on stage and with Oti Mabuse’s choreography, it’s a real showstopper!
How did you research your era of Cher?
A lot of analytical work on Cher as a woman, her ability and why she might react in a certain way. Every little thing that Cher is known for stems from something, so it’s beautiful for me as an actress to be able to find a route of where Cher comes from. With the amazing writing and music, The Cher Show really does tell all. It just makes so much sense where all her beautiful vulnerability and strive comes from. So, you’ll get all that knowledge step by step in the show.
Of course, we’re also going to get a fantastic back-catalogue of music! What are your favourites to perform?
I absolutely love performing with Lucas Rush on I Got You Babe. It’s incredible because we really studied the original 1960s Top of The Pops footage when Sonny & Cher came over to England. We studied every single hair move and touch. Both myself and Lucas take so much pride in doing that for the older audience members to give them something and transport them right back to that place! It is an honour to be able to give the older generations some nostalgia. That moment really stays in my heart because you can see them swaying, laughing, and smiling because they remember it happening on television – a special time!
The Cher Show is also an education for younger people, isn’t it?
Absolutely! Everyone knows Cher is a household name and we’re here to tell you exactly why. The musical is relatable for women and men, everyone! I think it is extremely relatable because you see a very vulnerable side to a very powerful woman which is extremely important. You can be a star, but also crash and burn at the same time, it’s beautiful, extremely beautiful.
Have you ever appeared in Cardiff before?
No, I actually have never been to Cardiff! I am so excited because I love Wales, the accent, everything! I love that – England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales! There’s something about that – I’m like I’ll go explore! The fact that I’m coming to Cardiff and able to bring my passion and my work is special. It’s a hubbub, a fantastic city and I think Cher will fit in perfectly there!
You have a lot of passion and enthusiasm for your work which is so important. Is there any advice you would give anyone starting out on a theatrical career?
I always say that you don’t have to conform. So, by that you can be a chameleon, you can be expansive, yet never feel that you must fit a mould or try and be someone. If you can be the rawest version of yourself that will make you excel. I always love saying that to people because I think it’s easily forgotten; you are special because you are that person and there’s only one you.
I will recommend going to summer schools or Easter schools, take a 3-year vocational course and have a look at those schools offer! Go to classes and just know that if you have a fire for something and it really feels good then it’s extremely attainable and more attainable than you think. Just work with yourself be your best friend, know that you have your own back.
- The Cher Show runs at Cardiff’s New Theatre from August 23-27, 2022, and has an age guidance of 12+. For ticket details visit newtheatrecardiff.co.uk