Watch Cher Play All the Major Parts in a 12-Minute Remake of West Side Story (1978)

Cher, the monony­mous God­dess of Pop, gift­ed the small screens of the 70s with a lot of over-the-top glam­our.

Her work eth­ic, comedic flair and unapolo­getic embrace of camp helped her stand out from the crowd, con­fer­ring the fame she had longed for since child­hood, when she com­man­deered her 5th grade class­mates for an unof­fi­cial, and, from the sounds of it, all-female pro­duc­tion of Okla­homa, cov­er­ing the male roles her­self when the boys declined to par­tic­i­pate.

Some twen­ty years lat­er, she was a house­hold name — one that was no longer append­ed to that of ex-hus­band Son­ny Bono, co-host of the pop­u­lar epony­mous vari­ety hour in which they sang, hammed their way through goofy skits, and bust­ed each other’s chops to the delight of the live stu­dio audi­ence.

The 1978 tele­vi­sion event Cher…special found her bring­ing many of those same tal­ents to bear, along with coun­try star Dol­ly Par­ton, rock­er Rod Stew­art, out­ré glam band, The Tubes, and the crowd-pleas­ing array of span­gled, skin-bar­ing Bob Mack­ie designs that defined her look.

More shock­ing than any of Mackie’s cre­ations or the Musi­cal Bat­tle to Save Cher’s Soul, a set piece where­in Par­ton and a gospel choir endeav­or to coax the diva from a kinky dis­co hellscape, is the star’s 12-and-a-half minute solo ver­sion of West Side Sto­ry, above.

This is no mere med­ley. Cher puts the big pot in the lit­tle, don­ning mul­ti­ple wigs, a fac­sim­i­le of the chaste white par­ty dress Natal­ie Wood wore to the dance at the gym, and flats (!) to embody Tony, Maria, Ani­ta, Bernar­do and var­i­ous Jets, sans irony.

Some of Stephen Sond­heim’s award-win­ning songs have been trans­posed to a dif­fer­ent key to accom­mo­date Cher’s con­tral­to, and when they haven’t, her famous voice is stretched a bit thin.

Vocal­ly, she makes a more con­vinc­ing Jet than she does the ingenue, Maria.

(Speak­ing of which, let’s not for­get that that’s ghost singer Marni Nixon, not Wood, as Maria on the 1961 film’s sound­track…)

Why West Side Sto­ry?

Why not God­spell or Jesus Christ Super­star? Wouldn’t those fit bet­ter the­mat­i­cal­ly with the por­tion of the spe­cial that has Dol­ly and a white-robed cho­rus bat­tling the denizens of Satan’s sexy playpen?

Two words:

1. Vari­ety. That’s what Cher was ped­dling in the 70s.

2. Nos­tal­gia. As Cher recalls in On the Dance Floor: Spin­ning Out on Screen:

I remem­ber danc­ing around my liv­ing room to West Side Sto­ry (1961). I would sing all the parts and dance every sin­gle dance, when there was no one else around.

That admis­sion helps us reframe the cringe fac­tor. Before ye cast the first stone, think: hast thou nev­er stood before a mir­ror singing into a hair­brush?

And if, by some chance, you’re unfa­mil­iar with West Side Sto­ry’s drama­tis per­son­ae and plot, don’t look to Cher for clar­i­fi­ca­tion.

Instead, we refer you to Romeo and Juli­et, and for some mod­ern con­text touch­ing on green screens, gen­der­flu­id­i­ty, and the col­or-con­scious cast­ing of the 2021 remake, the below episode of Chris Frank’s snarky Bad Music Video The­ater.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

David Bowie and Cher Sing Duet of “Young Amer­i­cans” and Oth­er Songs on 1975 Vari­ety Show

Leonard Bern­stein Awk­ward­ly Turns the Screws on Tenor Jose Car­reras While Record­ing West Side Sto­ry (1984)

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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  • Daniel Thaler says:

    That sucked, she sucked. That about sums it up. I nev­er could see this femme fatale thing about her, at all. I liked her when she was with Son­ny, before she became “THE GODDESS OF POP.” REALLY? Usu­al­ly you think of a thing as being over pro­duced. She, as a per­son, is waaay over­pro­duced. Some­body in Hol­ly­wood decid­ed to push her brand a make her a star.

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