Cher in North Little Rock 

March 28, Verizon Arena

The only other time we saw Cher perform live, she was on the first of a couple of supposed "final" tour stops at what's now called Verizon Arena, and we had the pleasure of keeping company with Little Rock entrepreneur Jennings Osborne in his crowded suite. Jennings is gone, but Cher, who turns 68 in May, is still out on the road on yet another promised final concert swing.

This time we were only six rows away, dead center, from the front of the stage (amazing comped concert seats, to be sure) and we're pretty sure we saw a wink when she was assuring the crowd of 12,119 raucous concertgoers that this was indeed her last series of shows.

Another sexagenarian who doesn't sound ready to stop touring, the rocking, 61-year-old Pat Benatar, was a hot, cheery warm-up for the main act in an hour-long set with her husband, guitarist/keyboardist Neil Giraldo. Benatar, who stole the show appearing in a hit-filled tour with Journey that stopped by Verizon Arena last fall, sounded no different from the way she did 35 years ago when she and Giraldo first started their run. Eventually, the show became a happy sing-along for the arena on such familiar Benatar hits as "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," "We Are Young," and an encore blend of "Heartbreaker" with the Johnny Cash staple "Ring of Fire."

While Cher's a testament to what plastic surgeons can accomplish, she also still possesses the legs of a 25-year-old — not a mark on them, though she was hiding recent ankle surgery that she said was keeping her from doing some really serious moves with her five male and five female dancers, two acrobats and a solid seven-piece backing band with a female bass player donning the Cher hair of the '60s.

Totally Las Vegas in production, with everything but actual pyrotechnics, the performance may have been more show than Cher, as she required several breaks for a dozen costume changes that helped her convey a career in singing and movies that began in the mid-1960s. She spent a lot of time providing insight we've somehow missed all these years, such as the fact that her mother was from Searcy before she moved to Hollywood for an acting and modeling career. (A simple Googling of Cher's mom reveals a still-vivacious woman who has written a book and appears in fabulous shape for 88, hints that we may still have not seen the last of the genetically blessed Cher).

The concertgoer's age might have determined which part of the show stood out most. For us, Cher's mashup of video from the 1960s and her live sing-along with a video of Sonny Bono on "The Beat Goes On," followed by "I've Got You, Babe," was beautiful nostalgia. Cher expressed how difficult it had been in past shows to recreate "I've Got You, Babe," and her ode to her late and ex-husband was heartfelt.

She began the show, though, bringing the power of woman to the fore and ended it the same. For the opening "Women's World," she arose atop a pillar wearing an audacious feathered headdress for a Cleopatra look.

To end it, Cher climbed aboard a contraption shaped like a church window, and this time her headpiece was a halo of the madonna — not Madonna, but rather the Virgin Mary (we're not kidding) — as she floated mere feet above the floor crowd to the back of the arena. Some fans screamed and reached almost as if the Holy Mother herself was in the house.

In between, Cher hit on all the major points in her vocal career, from her "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" solo breakout, as she swirled in a multileveled gypsy skirt, to the more recent "Believe," where she wore what appeared to be next to nothing. Her fabulous dancers worked their rears off with her, particularly on the bawdy "Welcome to Burlesque," and in killing time while she went backstage. Her two acrobats, wearing nothing but the lower half of a Greek war ensemble, scurried up and down ropes before a Trojan horse appeared from backstage, and Cher slipped out of it dressed as Helen of Troy (we guess) in a short gold outfit with blond wig, singing "Take It Like a Man."

One other highlight was the powerful and fitting ballad "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me," a rangy song that she managed to handle without much difficulty.

She reminded us, with a video of her Oscar acceptance speech for her role in "Moonstruck," that critics never thought much of her as a "real" singer or actor. Her career says otherwise. And, approaching 68, it truly appears that, to paraphrase the song title, she has turned back time. No ifs about it.

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