It was more than a half-century ago that Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPiere Bono – better known as Cher – became a pop star in the mid-1960s duo Sonny & Cher.
She would also become an Emmy-winning co-host on "The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour"; a solo recording star; a Grammy-winning dance icon (for her song "Believe"); and an Oscar-winning actress (for "Moonstruck").
At 70, Cher is back touring, with a dozen shows at the new MGM National Harbor in Maryland starting Friday.
We spoke with her recently from Los Angeles about the show, her mortality, political activism, and new ventures on stage and screen.
Q. Are there advantages to playing new stages such as the Park Theater Monte Carlo in Vegas and the MGM National Harbor?
A. I haven’t seen the other one, but the one in Vegas is just amazing. It’s a joy to go out on it every day because it’s so not like a lot of the theaters that you play in. It’s a small arena, and it has the same feeling as an arena – everybody can stand up, you know, and dance around. There’s not the same kind of restrictions as, like, Caesars Palace.
Q. The Vegas production seems quite big. Is it the same production that will be out here as well?
A. No, because your place is too small. We’re going to do whatever we can fit in. We can’t fly things and stuff like that because it’s just too small.
Q. Having 11 costume changes must be difficult to do every night.
A. You know what, I’m just so used to it, it doesn’t bother me at all. I mean, it’s fast, and there’s a million people doing everything. Everybody just does the thing that they do, and I just stand really quietly and meditate while they’re doing it.
Q. Is it as important to fans to see the clothes as it is to hear their favorite songs?
A. Well, you know, it started out that way. I did it to make me happy because I just didn’t want to go out and stand in one outfit and sing. I thought it would be so much more fun and more festive and, you know, more show business. So that’s the way we started. And also, it started that way on "Sonny & Cher" because I used to have 13 or 14 costume changes a week on that.
Q. And you’re still using the same designer after all these years, Bob Mackie.
A. Absolutely. We’ve been working together for 40 years. We try to pick out the costumes that go with the songs, and pretty much there’s a new costume that goes with each one. The most I do in one outfit is two songs.
Q. How do you keep your voice sounding the same? Is it because it was so low to begin with?
A. Well, you know what? At one point, I started taking lessons, and my voice just got so much better. It was always strong, but it didn’t have the same kind of control. I didn’t have the same range. So it’s actually gotten better, and I’m surprised.
Q. Do you still like to sing the old songs?
A. I really do. I like to sing the new songs, too. But I know this is what people want. That’s why they call it "Classic Cher."
Q. Like Classic Coke?
A. Yes! Or like Classic Dr Pepper.
Q. You’re performing "I’ve Got You Babe" alongside Sonny in film clips. Is that difficult to do for any reason, technically or emotionally?
A. Not technical, but emotionally I didn’t know it was going to work for me. But I tried it, and it was really fun. I thought it was going to be hard, but actually it was fun.
Q. I saw your Farewell Tour 14 years ago. I guess people forgive you for it not actually having been your farewell.
A. Well, who knows that it’s not going to be your farewell? I mean, who thinks that you’re going to keep doing it, or that anyone is going to want to come? You never know. It’s always like, "Oh, well, it’s probably finished now." You could put on a show, and you could go to sell tickets and nobody buys them. Also, when you get older, you don’t know what’s going to happen. People are really more interested in young people.
Q. Your Twitter feed is very political. Will there be political content in your show, and will you be doing any political activity while in Washington?
A. I just don’t think it’s right to do it from the stage. I can tell you, when you’re entertaining people, you have them in a confined area, and that’s just not the place to do it. Now, I marched in all the marches, and I’ll march in every march that I’m near. And I won’t give up. I won’t give up.
Q. I understand you were in the District (of Columbia) for the Women’s March, but you didn’t get onstage to speak?
A. No. It was really a drag, because they had wanted me to go on, and as I was starting to go on, some blond lady pushed me back. I was standing there with Alicia (Keys), and this woman just, like, really pushed me with all of her might, and then I was so taken aback, I was taken by surprise, and then she pushed Alicia on. I had talked in New York (at a Jan. 19 rally), and I was disappointed. But my talking wasn’t the most important thing.
Q. And who was that blonde woman? Was it Madonna?
A. No. (Laughter.) It was just some chick on the stage. I guess she was the director.
Q. What were you going to say at the march that you were prevented from saying?
A. I was going to say the same thing I said in New York, and that is: This is a time unlike any I’ve seen in my life. It’s frightening, and it’s with someone who doesn’t know and doesn’t care how the system works, and it’s a travesty. So the only thing we can do is show our anger and our disappointment and our discontent by first of all organizing. And that’s not enough. You have to take advantage of the organizing, and you have to do something with it. It can’t just be energy that doesn’t get captured and used.
Q. What’s the next step after organizing, then?
A. You have to vote, and you have to start voting at the bottom levels, and you have to get involved, and there are many organizations to get involved with. And you have to do the grunt work.
Q. Your image popped up at the Oscars this year, and it made me wonder why you haven’t been in any movies lately.
A. Well, I’m about to do a movie about Flint, Michigan, and I’m very excited about that. I’ve been involved with Flint since pretty much the beginning, so I think this is going to have merit.
Q. It sounds like a "Silkwood"-type project.
A. It’s the same kind of idea. It’s like the movie with Julia Roberts I was watching the other night, "Erin Brockovich." It’s all very much the same kind of idea. Those kinds of things are tied together – when people who have no voice and have no one that’s interested in who they are or what they think or what their lives mean. They don’t care. It’s like the bottom line: How much will it cost to keep doing this thing that is poisoning people? Is it worth it, and will we get away with it? All the things that you don’t expect of people that are supposed to take care of you and watch over you. You don’t expect them to have no compassion and no empathy or humanity.
Q. Is it because there was no material like this available that you haven’t done movies in a while?
A. This was just a script that I read, and because one of my close friends is Karen Weaver, who is the mayor of Flint. We got to be good friends, and I wanted to be a part of it. I just got another script, too. So things come to you. And when you’re supposed to do them, you do them.
Q. You have something coming to Broadway as well?
A. Right. Jeff Sellers, the producer that did "Hamilton," he’s producing it. The writer (Rick Elice) is the man who wrote "Jersey Boys." So I’m very excited about it. I know it’s going to be different. I think it’s gong to be unusual, and I think it’s going to be good.
Q. Are you going to be in it?
A. No. There are going to be three Chers in it, but I’m not going to be one of them – except every once in a while, for charity.
Q. So how are you going to win a Tony? Is it important to you to get the EGOT – Emmy-Grammy-Oscar-Tony?
A. No, but I really loved being on Broadway (in 1982’s "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean"). I had a great time on it. The one thing I loved, too, is that you don’t have to carry the whole show by yourself, and you don’t have to perform for the audience. So I enjoyed that.
I don’t know how I’m going to win a Tony. I might have to do something else, you know. I’ve got some time left. I’ve got a little bit of time.