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Cher, Cyndi Lauper crank out the hits at colorful Cleveland show

Cher and Cyndi Lauper Concert at Quicken Loans Arena, May 2, 2014

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“Sorry to be late—I’ll make it up to you!” echoed the familiar voice over the P.A. system at Quicken Loans Arena on Friday night.

Cher and Cyndi Lauper turned Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena into a dance hall with their memorable melodies and busy beats.
Cher and Cyndi Lauper turned Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena into a dance hall with their memorable melodies and busy beats.Peter M. Roche
Cyndi Lauper celebrates 30 years of She's So Unusual in Cleveland
Cyndi Lauper celebrates 30 years of She's So Unusual in ClevelandPeter M. Roche

It was approaching the ten o’clock hour, and headliner Cher had yet to give any indication she was on site—or even in the city—and ready to perform. Her message sounded contrite, but it may have been a recording; we’re guessing the diva runs fashionably late for most gig on her current D2K: Dressed to Kill Tour.

She might well have been stuck in traffic: It wasn’t so much a question of what was going on in downtown Cleveland on May 2nd as what wasn’t. Playhouse Square christened its new art deco sculpture-thing on Euclid and E. 14th. The bars were hopping. WMMS’ Alan Cox was hosting a comedy show at House of Blues. And the Indians were playing ball at Progressive Field next door.

But when Cher did make her entrance, you can bet your ass (and hers, come to think of it) it was grand. Still looking well shy of her true chronological age—we’re talking upper 60s now—the Grammy and Academy Award-collecting star spearheaded a lavish production whose musical numbers and videos hit on every incarnation of her remarkable career as both singer and actress.

The evening was nostalgic, a little naughty—and tons of fun.

We haven’t witnessed this many costume changes or beheld such elaborate sets since P!NK bungeed into town a few months back. Each song was another opportunity for pop rock’s reigning goddess to vamp her way through another vignette, and nobody vamps better. Cher’s spent the last half century in front of microphones and cameras, and her post-millennial Vegas stints (and first “Farewell Tour” in 2004) laid to rest any notion of her talents having waned with the years. Having cut twenty-odd albums and starred in as many films (and a couple popular ‘70s TV variety series), she’s one of America’s most experienced entertainers—a lens-savvy songbird who always turns a memorable vocal hook and looks great doing it.

The hundred-minute set saw the former Cherilyn Sarskisian touching on points of her chameleonic catalog—disco to techno—from as far back as her time dueting with late husband Sonny Bono(1965’s Look At Us) through last year’s Warner Bros. release, Closer to The Truth—her highest-charting solo album to date in these parts. Supported by a crack live band and a dozen nimble dancers, Cher made (another) spectactular first impression with the new “Woman’s World,” descending to stage from an elevated pedestal—clad in a sparkly gown and feathery headdress with a wingspan so large one suspected it might fly off with the singer at any moment.

Harkening back to 1998’s Believe, “Strong Enough” had the props department ditching Cher’s celestial Atlantis visuals for an Egyptian theme: A cadre of lithe males and sensuous females writhed and sauntered about the singer, all of them sporting threads suggesting a pack pharaohs, princesses, and slaves on safari at the discotheque. Then Cher transformed into a smoky lounge singer for “Dressed to Kill,” writhing on a chandelier suspended from the unseen rafters above as muscular would-be-seducers cavorted beneath.

The singer next donned a shimmering red miniskirt and dipped into the Sonny and Cher catalog with “The Beat Goes On,” then sang with Sonny himself (via prerecorded video) on perennial uber-hit, “I Got You Babe.” We’ve seen this kind of virtual duet before, and it doesn’t always come off well. But the “mod” era theatrics were spot-on, and the Sonny tribute felt sincere, tickling more than a few heartstrings.

Hailing from her seventh solo effort—and 1971 Kapp-MCA breakthrough following a string of flops—“Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves” celebrated the vintage Cher beloved by The Q’s 40-60 year old demographic, and had our star traipsing through a circus ensemble populated by strongmen, sword-swallowers, and bearded ladies. “Dark Lady” and “Half-Breed” were nods to the singer’s ancestry rather than her lifestyle; Cher’s black attire and Native American Indian ensemble paid homage to her father’s Armenian roots and mother’s Cherokee blood.

The stage served as a sports arena burlesque mid-set as Cher sashayed through music from the similarly-titled 2010 film starring herself and Christina Aguillera: “Welcome to Burlesque” and “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” were mildly lascivious—yet their lyrics spoke more to spiritual triumph than sexual gratification, praising girl power and freedom of individual expression. An ancient Roman theme followed, with Cher being shuttled back onstage in a Trojan horse by gladiator-suited combatants for another beat-busting Burlesque anthem, “Take It Like a Man.” This time the singer’s hair / wig was blonde, and her outfit as golden as her records.

Re-imagined on her 1995 disc It’s a Man’s World, “Walking in Memphis” spotlighted a more casual Cher. Wearing an all-black jumper, the singer spoke of Elvis Presley’s influence before belting the piano-powered hit about the King (penned by Ohio songwriter Marc Cohn) and outlaw ode “Just Like Jesse James.” She glanced over her shoulder while sauntering off, coyly cocking her finger like a pistol before disappearing under the same arch that swallowed her up for most set changes.

Even if Cher isn’t your thing, you had to credit the sexagenarian (and her directors and choreographers) for all the stagecraft and clever sequencing: This was a SHOW in the truest since.

Cher herself may move a little slower—perhaps “more cautiously” is a better way of putting it—these days but still did a lot of dancing, alone and with her troupe—whose stunning aerial acrobatics and body contortions surely required Cirque du Soleil strength and mental acuity. Cher’s band played on during her re-fittings, the musical merriment and stroboscopic lighting buying just enough time to switch things around. A video montage mid-way through contained clips from Cher’s best films (Witches of Eastwick, Silkwood, Mask, etc.); watching her slap Nicolas Cage in the face (Moonstruck) never gets old.

‘80s chart-toppers “I Found Someone” and “If I Could Turn Back Time” thrust the singer back into the same jaw-dropping, eye-popping, next-to-nothing black nylon outfits worn (er, or not ) in their MTV videos. The near-capacity crowd regurgitated the stiletto-heeled starlet’s refrains right back at her, converting The Q into a community jukebox where big hair, leotards, and feather boas rule. 1998’s “Believe” may well have been one of the first modern hits to benefit from an auto-tuned / computer-enhanced vocal, but Cher didn’t need any technical assistance to turn her dancehall effort into a neon-lit rave workout, replete with Day-Glo unitards and techno pulse.
Another offering from the Burlesque score, “I Hope You Find It” allowed Cher to bridge the chasm between herself and her adoring audience a final time before sending them home to dream.

Cher’s opener wasn’t exactly a novice, either.

Cyndi Lauper thrilled with a fifty-minute set that drew heavily from her mega-debut, She’s So Unusual, which just received a 30th Anniversary makeover (making us feel old). The two-disc deluxe set from Sony Legacy features demoes, outtakes, studio rehearsals, and remixes of many familiar Lauper songs, at least half of which Cyndi sang tonight—in stark contrast with her 2010 show at House of Blues, where Lauper eschewed the more obvious fan favorite to center on her then-new covers album, Memphis Blues. Many ticket-holders were left feeling alienated after that one.

That wasn’t the case Friday.

Cyndi entered from the back of the arena, bounding her way to the stage like a boxer bracing for a title bout. Doffing her hood and robe, Lauper revealed a full head of scarlet red hair and a black faux leather body suit—which somehow didn’t keep her from dancing like the old days. Cyndi’s distinct voice was unleashed in full force for “She Bop” (signature hiccups intact) and powered the percolating “I’ll Kiss You” and peppy “Witness.” She settled in with “All Through the Night,” holding back on the memorable Jules Shear cover for dramatic affect. She serenaded a mosquito lamp as if it were the moon, then spun a mini-mirrorball during a delicate instrumental passage.

“Into the Nightlife” probably wasn’t as familiar to folks—arriving courtesy 2008’s overlooked Bring Ya to The Brink—but maintained Cyndi’s momentum and, by extension, our fascination. “Sex In The Heel” sampled Lauper’s Tony-winning score from the Broadway musical Kinky Boots. Based on Harvey Fierstien’s funny shoe fetish book, the 2012 theatre production went on to earn critical acclaim after a lukewarm debut. Cyndi got to talking so much about the play (and her 2010 autobiography) that her preface eventually led to an a cappella of a completely different song.

“It’s about a black drag queen who talks to a factory worker,” Lauper explained. “They realize they’re both very much the same.”

But then it was right back to 1984—era of Reagan, Rocky Balboa, WWF Wrestling, Miami Vice-inspired pastel tees, and Technicolor Swatches. Cyndi melted hearts with “Time After Time”—which the audience sung back to her—and had everyone (guys and gals) shuffling their feet to a bubbly “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Folks seemed rooted to their seats up to this point, but the song was like an arena-sized adrenaline-shot to the heart; suddenly everyone sprung to life and danced.

"C'mon!" Cyndi cajoled, spurring the sing-along. "Let's show The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame how many girls there are in Cleveland!'

A couple She’s So Unusual covers followed: Lauper soared with The Brains’ vivacious “Money Changes Everything” before introducing her band and wailed on Prince’s “When U Were Mine.” Cyndi might’ve been content connecting with people through the music, but she made a point of venturing into the crowd and giving a few high-fives for added measure. She nearly lost her footing on a folding chair—but nearby fans weren’t about to let Lauper take a spill on their account, and braced the singer with steady hands.

An ode to simple, uncompromising individualism as much as the LGBT cause Lauper holds so dear, “True Colors” proved a softer, subdued—but achingly moving—finale.

www.cher.com
www.cyndilauper.com