As Cher returns to MGM National Harbor with her smash Las Vegas show, we sat down with the living icon to talk about her career, the costumes, and of course, life after love.
It's hardly accurate to say that Cher’s having a moment—she’s been having them since 1965. The genre-busting star’s career of hit songs, television shows, blockbuster films, and awards has included such moments as accepting her 1988 Oscar statue for Moonstruck in a nearly completely sheer, black Bob Mackie gown, and her 1986 Oscars outfit—with mohawk headdress made of 800 rooster feathers—that Mackie admits he questioned as “overkill.” (It is one of the most famous ensembles ever to have attended the Academy Awards.) She has taken a few farewell laps: Her 2002 Living Proof tour began as a 59-date tour in North America and morphed into 326 appearances around the world; a three-year residency at the Colosseum; and another farewell tour—Dressed to Kill—in 2014. The day we spoke, she’d just added 18 dates to her extended Classic Cher engagement at The Park Theater at Monte Carlo and the new theater at MGM National Harbor. And in March, the septuagenarian opened her National Harbor show by asking the audience, “What’s your grandmother doing tonight?” At this moment, as she kicks off another string of shows at MGM National Harbor, on August 31, Cher is saying farewell to no one.
Obviously, you’re not calling this a farewell tour. What does it take to pull you out of quieter times?
I don’t know! Each time, I’ve honestly thought this was the end, because you can only do it for so long. There’s a finite time. And who knows if anyone’s ever going to want to come see you again? So you start it, but you have no idea what’s going to happen. I think it’s fun and that’s your main objective. I mean, you want to bring people to a place that brings them great joy and that reminds them of a time in their life. And I’m always surprised at how many young people come too, because you don’t expect that.
Do you still have the same excitement when you go on stage?
You have to let yourself be free to enjoy it. I know what it’s like not to enjoy it, and it’s really not fun, so if you give yourself permission to have fun, then everything else falls into place. I’ve felt like I was being held back [before], and this place just allows me all the freedom that I want.
You pre-dated any performer we think of as edgy. Is there anyone contemporary you think is pushing boundaries the way you were in the ’60s and ’70s?
Of course I do, but when I was doing it, I was the only one that was doing it, so it was a little bit harder. When I went on the boat and did “Turn Back Time” [on the battleship USS Missouri in a fishnet body stocking surrounded by the ship’s crew], people freaked out, and it got taken off MTV, and people were shocked—and how could I? and whatever. And now anyone can do anything. I was the first person ever to show their bellybutton on TV. Well, it doesn’t sound like much now, but it was a big deal then. So somebody’s got to be blazing some trails.
You’d only sung “I Got You Babe” on the road once, and now with Sonny on a huge screen, you’re singing it together again. What prompted you to bring it back?
Well, a couple of things. I figured this is probably going to be the last time, no matter what I’m thinking, and I was thinking that he would just love that. I didn’t think I could do it before. I didn’t think I’d actually get through it. And then when we were in rehearsal, just to see if I could get through it, I really enjoyed it. When he died, everything changed. When he was alive, we could fight or do whatever we wanted to, but then all of a sudden he was gone, and it was a big loss—a huge loss. Our marriage was the least important thing that we did together.
Was it a revelation when you realized you could get through it? And maybe even have fun with it?
Yeah. It was the having fun with it that really changed things. Every night when I do it, I see him and it’s different. Warm. We had rough times, but every time I see him and we’re singing together, I like it. Look, we always had a good time working together. That’s just what Sonny and Cher was. If he came back today, we’d be able to pick up and do the same thing that we did before. Once we were in rehearsal and I realized that it wasn’t scary, and it didn’t make me feel bad, or make me feel sad, I was kind of thrilled because it added something new, and it added something new for me, and it was fun to see him.
There’s a clip in the show of you accepting your Oscar, where you said, “I’d never been accepted.
I’d succeeded at everything I ever tried, but I’d never been part of the group.” But you’re Cher! Is it important to be accepted? It’s not very important to me now, but it was in the beginning. Because you want to be accepted by your peers, except I didn’t have any peers. There was no one welcoming me with open arms, so finally it took me a while to not care. There was always a point in my career, and that never stopped, that I was going to do what I wanted. But I was always going to be terrified to do what I wanted. And so I wanted to do it, and I was afraid, but not afraid enough to not do it.
Have the best moments of your career been the ones people would expect?
I think that most of the time that’s true, but it’s not true all the time. I did a play on Broadway and it wasn’t a huge success, [Ed Graczyk’s Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, in 1982, directed by Robert Altman, a role she later reprised on screen]. But for me it was a milestone, and I got Silkwood from it. And I would have enjoyed it if I hadn’t gotten anything from it because it was just for me exciting and fun and unusual. It was an unbelievable amount of freedom and I loved acting. Sometimes things just come to you and they might not look like what you’re expecting but something makes it special and amazing to you.
It feels like there’s a lesson in there…
Well, for sure that was a freak. Because I was going to do an audition and then my mother thought I was someplace else and she called Bob Altman and they knew each other. And he said, “What’s Cher doing this year?” and my mom said, “She’s doing this that and the other,” and he called me and he said, “I’m going to send you a script,” and that was the Broadway play. And it was something that opened a door for me that was a whole new chapter of my life and I loved it.
Do you love acting for the same reasons you like performing onstage?
It’s different. It’s much different. I always say this but I always mean it. Singing is like going to a party at someone else’s house and acting is like throwing the party at your own house.
Do you have a favorite part of your show? And a favorite costume?
“Burlesque” I like the most. It’s just so much fun and it’s kind of new… like a little baby play. And I love the songs—and it’s choreographed so well. I just really enjoy it. I think the gold dress is really beautiful [worn with a blond wig and a gold halo in “After All”]. I’m singing in the boat. I enjoy the costume-wearing, too. It’s fun to make a storyline that isn’t just music. It’s just like an extra part of performance. It’s not like in a film where you put your work clothes on and it gives you an insight into the character that you wouldn’t otherwise have maybe, but the costumes are kind of like the cherry on the top.
You’re returning to MGM National Harbor. How do you feel about the DC–Baltimore area?
People will come from all kinds of places. I do really well in that particular section of the United States. So I’m not worried about that part at all. Those people are great, rowdy fans.
photography by ANDREW MACPHERSON