With just one word, a vivid picture comes to mind. Known as the “Goddess of Pop,” Cher is an entertainment icon.
Merrick resident Ella Perez is stepping into the role of the singer in the national tour of “The Cher Show” — the jukebox Broadway musical about Cher and her life — with no shortage of enthusiasm. The show hit the stage this month, and will travel to 57 markets across the country.
In the musical, Cher is played by three actresses. Perez will play Babe, the youngest Cher, with a timeline in the 1950s and ’60s.
“I’m having the best time portraying her,” Perez said of the role. “I found out that I relate a lot to her in many ways.”
Perez, 22, is a 2019 graduate of Sanford H. Calhoun High School, and was a member of the school’s On Tour Company — a highly regarded, co-curricular theater program for students in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District.
The program was founded by James Drake and Dale Parkinson in 1973, and has been directed by Sal Salerno since 1985. It is considered one of the best theater programs on Long Island, and many graduates have performed on Broadway. Students in all three Bellmore-Merrick high schools can audition for the company.
Perez, who is originally from Baldwin, was facing a move at the beginning of her freshman year. After already auditioning for Baldwin High School’s theater program, Perez had to start anew in Merrick.
It wasn’t easy, she said, but once she found her footing in On Tour, she found family, too.
“It really developed my full appreciation for theater,” she said. “You also create such a family there. I had the best friends; that was my home. That program is the highlight of the district — I genuinely do believe that.”
From performing in Shakespeare’s plays to musicals like “Mamma Mia,” Perez proved her range and dedication to theater. She says she owes it all to Salerno.
“He saw something in me that I didn’t see,” she said. “I really came into myself, and by senior year, I knew: This is what I want to do. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else for the rest of my life.”
A 2023 graduate of SUNY Cortland’s musical theater program, she told the Herald she hadn’t originally planned to go to a state school. In high school, she had dreams of living in New York City and attending the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, one of the most competitive theater programs in the country — which accepted her.
“I wanted to go to a school in the city with art people, an art school with people like me,” she said. “In the end, truly no matter what school you go to, you’re getting the same degree, you’re getting the same piece of paper. It’s, truly, you have the talent and ability to make it in the industry, or you don’t.”
She ultimately chose Cortland, prioritizing finances. And it paid off. This spring, after graduation, she found herself with two professional possibilities to choose from. She chose Cher.
“This was a part I felt like I was so perfect for,” Perez said. “This doesn’t happen to people — people don’t book right out of school like this. I’ve always been told, ‘You’ll get a million no’s before you get a yes.’ I literally couldn’t believe that this was my life. I think every day how lucky I am to have been in the position that I was, to have two offers given to me. That doesn’t happen to people.”
The role didn’t come without apprehension. At first, Perez suffered from “impostor syndrome.” She worried that her auditions had been a fluke, and she said she continues to prove to herself every day that she’s worthy of the role — and the work environment helps. Rehearsals took place in New York City.
“It’s an all-female creative team, which has been so lovely and refreshing,” she said. “It’s such a warm and safe, positive room. Especially with a show that’s about women. For women, directed and produced by women. I feel very safe there.”
Perez fell in love with the cast as much as well. “We spend eight hours a day together, six days a week,” she said. “Everybody in the cast is so wonderful — we’ve already bonded together.”
The rehearsals are full of positivity and fresh, uplifting energy, Perez said, which is what “The Cher Show” is all about. She said she has learned as much about herself as she has had to learn about Cher.
“I don’t have to be perfect,” she said. “It’s such an empowering show for women. It’s all about women — it’s just amazing. The story is really inspiring — there’s happy, there’s jokes. There’s really emotional moments. It makes you feel something, and you just have so much fun. There’s really just an appreciation for self-made artists.”