Cher's singing, prancing turn back time

If you didn't catch Cher's official second and final Farewell Tour performance Monday night at KeyArena, you might just have missed her for good. You can never really tell with a diva, but there was something awfully final in that exit line as she strode offstage: "Good night. And goodbye."

It's been a long goodbye for Cher, whose current show passed the million-visitor mark Dec. 12 in Anaheim. The original tour has been extended, and she'll be on the road until May 3 (in Ottawa).

By now, this spectacular show has been honed way past the well-oiled-machine stage, and Cher's patter doesn't vary much from city to city: The comments about how long she's been around ("I've been a diva for 40 frickin' years!") or how her show is designed as a tough act for Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez to follow.

But Cher still sounds as lively and feisty as ever. The voice is strong, and the energy doesn't sag — neither does any iota of Cher herself, whose trim figure looks fabulous in all those Bob Mackie costumes. The show may be well-honed, but it surely isn't stale.

Not when you have Her Royal Cherness making her famous descent to the stage via a glitzy chandelier, while she belts out a dance cover of U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." Or riding around the stage on the equally famous mechanical elephant. Or sporting the circus master's red tails and top hat, or an elaborate sari, or — best of all — the famous posterior-baring black fishnet-and-leather getup from the "If I Could Turn Back Time" video.

The show provides nonstop visual thrills: acrobatic dancers who twirl above the stage in dangerous-looking aerial feats, and constant video footage of Cher's former triumphs. There's footage from Cher's movies, including her Oscar-winning role in "Moonstruck"; a touching tribute to the "Sonny & Cher" days with her late husband Sonny Bono; even a glimpse of the singer as a little girl. More footage shows Cher with celebrities from Elton John and the Jackson 5 to Lily Tomlin and the Muppets.

How many public figures of 56 could dare to prance around a stage in bell-bottoms and a leather vest, knowing that they look just as great as in the decades-old video footage rolling on the screens? So what if Cher's had a little work done, and nothing moves on her face but her mouth and her eyelids? She looks fabulous; she sounds as good as ever; she's clearly in great shape; and her stamina speaks for itself.

Cyndi Lauper, clad in a black suit with a huge lace bustle, opened for Cher with a set that included a few false starts — but also lots of honest charm and a generous sprinkling of her old hits ("Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and "True Colors" among them).

If you missed Cher's farewell tour, take heart: In February, NBC airs a two-hour prime-time concert special filmed at her Nov. 8 show in Miami. According to the singer's Web site, Warner Bros. will release a definitive greatest-hits package to coincide with the broadcast, and a batch of the old "Sonny & Cher" shows will also be released sometime in 2003.

The touring may end, but the beat goes on.

Melinda Bargreen:

Concert review

Cher's "Living Proof" Farewell Tour with Cyndi Lauper opening; Monday night at KeyArena.