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''Cher: Live in Concert'' was prerecorded

But, Ken Tucker explains, that should be no big surprise

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”Cher: Live in Concert” was prerecorded

Some viewers may have felt cheated to learn that this past weekend’s ”Cher: Live in Concert” on HBO wasn’t really live but was, rather, a performance taped the night before it aired. True Cher fans would not, however, have been put off by this, since much of Cher’s appeal derives from such calculation and artifice. Why complain that a live concert isn’t live when you’re dealing with a star who rarely wears her own hair and scored her first hit song in more than a decade by mechanically distorting her voice?

Even by the loose standards of naturalism projected by Cher, though, ”Live in Concert” was something of a bust. Renditions of songs ranging from ”I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” to ”It’s in His Kiss” lost momentum after their first verses — that is to say, as soon as you took in the costume change Cher had effected (red curly Medusa hair and lobster-net jumpsuit one minute; silver-Christmas-icicle wig the next). The music was definitely secondary to the spectacle. Which is alright as far as it goes — lots of people going to concerts attend knowing they won’t be able to hear the star over the roar of the crowd; it’s the proximityto the star that makes the ticket and parking price worth it.

But for this tour, Cher has surrounded herself with a batch of distractingly cornball dancers who must cavort for minutes on end while Cher is backstage getting new hair and duds. This is to be expected, I suppose, when you’re playing venues like this one, the MGM Grand in Las Vegas — also to be expected, more or less, was a lot of lame stage patter, some of it courtesy of comedy writer and roly-poly ”Hollywood Square” Bruce Vilanch. In other words, while Cher looked to be in great shape, there was too much padding around her.

I almost didn’t make it through the projected-screen clips from the old ”Sonny and Cher Show”; a godawful ballad that commenced with Cher in a pirate hat; and the endless introduction of the band, the backup singers, and the dancers to finally hear the reason this concert was brought to you by HBO — the technopop pleasantry ”Believe,” reserved, natch, for her sole encore. And gee, the song sounded exactly the way it does on the radio. Cher in ”Tea With Mussolini” had more spontaneity than Cher in Las Vegas.