The Bob Mackie-style outfits, the extreme hair and glittery makeup, the husky voice and signature vocals — no, it wasn’t Cher on stage at Bogart’s Bar & Grill in the Ogden section of Upper Chichester last Thursday night. It was “Almost Cher,” Helene Masiko, and the soldout crowd was going wild.
This is how it went down. Gloria Lipchock, the manager at Bogart’s, 3001 Naamans Creek Road, invited me to come check out the “Almost Cher” show. Joy Winner-Vasaturo, of Collingdale, who is somewhat of a regular at the “Almost Cher” shows, recommended the show to Gloria, who is starting to spruce up entertainment at the tavern, which opened as Bogart’s after Maximillian’s closed in 2014.
Honestly, even though I have always been an avid Cher fan, I had a little apprehension about seeing a tribute show. I asked my brother and sister-in-law if they’d go with me because they’re always adventurous and I truthfully had no idea what to expect with this one. The only impersonators that I ever saw were the Legends shows down in Atlantic City and in Myrtle Beach and, of course, Elvis, more times than I can count. Elvis impersonators seem to pop up everywhere one goes in life. Admittedly every King wannabe that I have seen has been relatively talented and certainly fun to watch. The tribute bands like Beatlemania, Rain and a few others go beyond imitating just the music but also go in for the persona, dress and personality as well. They are also great fun to see in substitution for the real deal.
Anyway, to make a long story short, the “Almost Cher” show was a lot of fun, and, in my humble opinion, Helene Masiko really delivered. Since I never got to see the real Cher live, this is probably as close as most people at Bogart’s that night, including myself, will ever get to seeing Cher in concert. Masiko’s show is pretty amazing. She sings 25 of the superstar’s greatest hits, from the 1960s onward, and peppers her show with lots of crazy Cher outfits and wigs, changing as often as Cher probably does in her shows. No doubt about it, Helene really projects a great illusion. She blends comedy and music and had the whole house rocking. It was unreal how she nailed so many of Cher’s mannerisms and looks. The show was fun because it was very comically interactive, and Masiko had a fantastic rapport with the audience. She asked a couple of guys to go up on stage and threw a wig and accessories on them to perform as her backup singers. Angelo Vasaturo, of Collingdale, volunteered to be “her Sonny” in an “I’ve Got You Babe” duet. Everyone just really seemed to have a good time, clapping, singing, snapping selfies with “Almost Cher” as she worked the crowded room.
Since this was a dinner theater type of deal, we sat at long tables. On my left sat a whole crowd of women who were really having a good time. Back in 1967, they graduated from John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School in Philly. The 15 ladies, most now living out of state, told me that Cher-like Helene was their classmate and she has been doing a fabulous job impersonating Cher since the 1980s. They also proudly told me that when she’s not “Almost Cher,” Helene does realistic impersonations of Joan Rivers and Fran “The Nanny” Drescher.
“Look at her Facebook page. You’ll see all the celebrities that she impersonates. She’s really good at it. She was a fun person back in high school, just like she is now,” shared classmate Linda Reed, of Marlton, N.J.
Masiko also performs with her “Almost Cher” sound man Joe Catando in Jeez Duo, and they’ll be back at Bogart’s on May 4. Additionally, Lipchock told me that she’s including more impersonators in a new spring and summer lineup. This coming Saturday, April 28, will be a Rat Pack impersonator, The Dino Show, as well as a close-as-you-can-get Frankie Valli clone — none other than his real brother Bobby Valli on June 1.
The ladies on the other side of me were extremely fascinating because they follow impersonators on a regular basis. I have never met anyone who can say that they’ve seen over 100 impersonators and counting until I met Cindy Rietz, of Upper Chichester. Cindy was there with friends Susan Johnson, of West Chester, and Ruth Megonigal, of Coatesville. Her friends have seen a fair share of impersonators, too. Cindy said that she sees about 12 impersonators per year at Delaware Park Casino, where the shows are always free. She also catches some at the Atlantic City casinos and at Rodney Square in Wilmington, Del. Ruth said she enjoys going to Dutch Apple Theatre in Lancaster, where they often have impersonators.
All three friends said that they especially like to attend the Annual Ocean City Elvis Festival in Maryland each October where the best Elvis Tribute Artists from around the world compete for prize money. It’s an entire weekend where people stay at the Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel and get entertained by the performers all weekend long. Cindy and Ruth said that Doug Church is their favorite Elvis impersonator. All three friends also stated that they’ve seen a really good Elton John impersonator.
“It’s way cheaper to see the impersonator than the original,” Cindy explained.
She had a point. A ticket to see the real goddess of pop, Cher herself, would have cost a few hundred dollars. The “Almost Cher” show was $35 and even included a dinner and dessert buffet. Plus, I would wager that you would never find a $3 bottle of beer at a real Cher concert.
“These tribute artists are talented, and they concentrate on the person they are imitating all the time, so they get really, really good at it,” Cindy continued. “They perfect the star’s music, their styles and their mannerisms. They give you an experience and feel for a well-known artist if you can’t get a ticket to see them or if the singer has died.”
Cindy told me that, in addition to Cher, Elton and Elvis impersonators, she saw tribute artists Tom Jones, Queen, Chuck Berry, Billy Joel, the Beatles, Johnny Cash, Journey, Neil Young, and she just kept remembering and listing more and more.
“I looked up a Fleetwood Mac ticket, and it cost $250,” Cindy remarked. “I saw a Fleetwood Mac tribute band for only $35, and it probably was just as good.”
“I don’t like every impersonator that I see,” Ruth chimed in, “but they are a good second choice if I can’t see the real one.”
Also sitting at our table were friends Donna Markette, of Upper Chichester; Gerri Russell, of Clifton Heights; and Dorie Simpson, of Media. They decided to attend the show, Donna said, because they are all Cher fans.
When asked if they ever saw a good tribute artist before, Gerri said that she once saw a Cher impersonator back in the 1980s at Pulsations nightclub and Donna said that she saw “Oh, What a Night,” a Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons tribute band, last Wednesday at Dover Downs and “they were really good.”
We had a lively table. As the show ended and everyone flooded the stage to take some pictures with the Cher-like star of the show, Gloria wandered up toward the stage to pose for a photo of her own.
“Everyone loved her,” Gloria smiled with satisfaction, as her eyes perused the crowd of people that the Cher tribute artist drew into Bogart’s. “I couldn’t be happier. The show was great, the people were great and we certainly created a buzz by hosting ‘Almost Cher’ here.”
On the following day, I kept thinking about celebrity impersonator performers and tribute bands, as I found myself annoyingly singing Cher songs repetitively in my head and sometimes aloud. The imitator entertainers have been around for decades, but in recent years, they seemed to have really grown in popularity. Just take Delco for example, where quite a few of the bands at Rose Tree Park Summer Festival each year happen to be tribute bands. It’s no wonder! These performers truly create a mix of fun and nostalgia. Just ask anyone at Bogart’s last Thursday night. In the future, these knockoff singers will likely grow even more in popularity as each new generation discovers the talent of legendary superstars like the Beatles, Elvis, Johnny Cash and all the others that are impossible now to ever again see in person.
“If I could turn back time …”
Readers can contact Peg DeGrassa at firstname.lastname@example.org.