Original designs by Bob Mackie. Two thousand costume pieces. More than 100,000 rhinestones and sequins. At least 100 headpieces. More than 60 wigs. Two hundred pairs of shoes.
And three actresses tasked with portraying a legend.
"The Cher Show" is launching its national tour from the Walton Arts Center this weekend, and it is an epic undertaking. The cast had three weeks of rehearsals in New York City before traveling to Fayetteville to put together the technical elements of the show -- sets, lights, costumes and the orchestra -- for life on the road.
Two of the actresses playing Cher -- Ella Perez as "Babe," the teenager, and Catherine Ariale as "Lady Cher," the icon at the height of her career -- were both packing for their first national tour when they paused for interviews Nov. 10. Perez is fresh out of college, a spring graduate of State University of New York at Cortland, Ariale a 2019 graduate of Pace University in New York City. Both of them have very excited mothers who idolized Cher in her glory days with Sonny. And both of them have eight-month contracts to see the United States from planes, buses and the wings of scores of different theaters.
"The Cher Show," which opened on Broadway in December of 2018, won Tony Awards for Best Costume Design of a Musical for Mackie and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for Stephanie J. Block. Described as a jukebox musical, it includes hits like "If I Could Turn Back Time," "I Got You Babe," "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" and "The Beat Goes On."
"The first thing I wanted to get down pat was her voice, so I watched a lot of old YouTube videos from the '70s," says Ariale. "Lady is the middle Cher, from the prime Sonny and Cher era," and so Ariale also studied her mannerisms, the way she carried herself and the way she held her head -- and went to the gym to work on Cher's abs, she admits with a laugh.
Perez says she started the process of applying for the role of the younger Cher before she even finished college, was finally asked for an audition tape -- and was called back for auditions "almost all summer."
"I had just gotten home from my Starbucks barista shift when my agent finally called," she remembers. "I was doing laps around the house! It didn't feel real. It still doesn't."
In some ways, the hard work is just beginning when the cast gets to the Walton Arts Center. That's when they learn to manage their health while traveling -- for Ariale, that means scores of vitamins and her vocal steamer -- figure out what they must have on the road -- for Perez, her childhood teddy bear -- and learn the intricate backstage dance of complex costume changes.
It takes a "great team and communication," says costume coordinator Janine Loesch.
"Most importantly communication between the involved parties, the actor and dresser for sure, and then sometimes this also includes a sound person, a props person and a wigs/makeup person," she explains. "Each change that is not done by an actor on their own involves what we call 'quick change choreography' so that the change happens the same way each time. This allows everyone involved to be aware of what's going on, be able to access the situation if something goes wrong and make the proper edits to the change so the actor goes on stage as planned and the audience is none the wiser that there was a costume change issue backstage."
Of course, Mackie's signature beads and sequins mean costumes require a lot of maintenance, too.
"Each item has to be cleaned after wearing and then things such as beaded items may need to be re-beaded," Loesch explains. "Costumes may need to be re-fitted if actors change over the course of a long run, and then there is maintenance that happens if a costume gets wear and tear, just like someone's personal clothes. If it gets stuck in a set or the item just wears over time, stitchers will make the proper adjustments to keep the item looking its best. The beaded looks all get folded in towels and placed in buckets for safekeeping instead of getting hung with the rest of the clothing for the show.
"Having worked in professional theater for more than 15 years, I must say this is one of my favorite costume shows to work on, and I'm so happy for a second opportunity to work on the show, watching a new iteration come to life," Loesch concludes.
"I could not be more over-the-moon excited to be sharing theater with people all over the country," says Ariale. "Sometimes this dream can take a long time, but if you keep working and pushing through, you can end up leading a national tour! I've worked really hard to get to be where I am, and I won't take a single second for granted!"
'The Cher Show'
WHEN -- 2 & 7 p.m. today, Nov. 19; 7 p.m. Nov. 21
WHERE -- Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville
COST -- $35-$75
INFO -- waltonartscenter.org, 443-5600
BONUS -- A show-themed cocktail class is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. today, Nov. 19, and again Nov. 21. Tickets are $39, and you must be 21 or older to participate.
Six Things to Know:
'Teching' A Tour
1. Touring shows arrive in several trailers with a cast and crew that is a well-rehearsed and an efficient team that has been touring for some time. In the case of a technical rehearsal -- or "tech" -- all the equipment, crew and cast arrives in waves, and in some cases they are even meeting each other and seeing their own show for the first time.
2. The tech process happens in stages as each element -- lighting, sound, video -- is tested, timed, and fine-tuned before the actors or musicians ever set foot on the stage. Many of the scenic elements and costumes that are custom made for this production will be fully assembled for the first time at WAC.
3. The musicians and actors will have rehearsed their parts, but the "tech" will be the first time those artists will be asked to integrate their performances with lights, sound, and video cues. This can be an extremely slow process as the same few lines of dialogue or choreographed steps will be repeated many times until all theatrical elements are in sync.
4. This is more than just getting a show ready for an audience, it's also about getting it ready to go on the road. What will take two weeks to build during tech will need to be finished in a single day once the show hits the road. The touring crew makes this happen through exhaustive planning and optimization. Every element is carefully labeled and color coded. The trucks must be packed to ensure the first items needed on stage will be the first to be unloaded in the next city. It's a giant game of Super Tetris! And the crew must leave here ready to explain all these tasks to a group of locals who have never seen any of this equipment before.
5. The typical Broadway tech will require 40-50 locals to load in and install, with 20 of those technicians working each rehearsal and performance across multiple departments or disciplines, including wardrobe, lighting, audio, props, and carpentry.
6. When 25-50 cast and crew live in Fayetteville for a few weeks leading up to the public performances, they patronize local coffee shops, restaurants, hardware stores, small businesses and more, creating valuable economic impact to the community and supporting local businesses.
-- WAC production staff