Review by: Paul Towers, 09 October 2018
Cilla the musical by Jeff Pope
A Bill Kenwright production
Curve 9 – 13 October 2018
“Kara Lily Hayworth takes the stage by storm.”
When Priscilla Maria Veronica White, aka Cilla Black, died in Spain on 1 August 2015 many thought that that would be that. Her legacy would be 50 odd years of entertaining the great unwashed public, many hours of tapes and DVD’s of her TV work, 41 singles and 35 albums. But then her enterprising son, Robert Willis, thought that her life apart from the entertaining was interesting enough to warrant a biographical drama. And so it was that Sheridan Smith donned the trademark red hair to bring her heydays to a whole new audience in 2014.
From the success of that TV mini series a full blown musical theatre show was created by the same author, Jeff Pope. Sadly Cilla didn’t live to see the finished production but had given her blessing to a first draft.
The story of Cilla’s early life is fairly well known to those with an interest in the 60’s and 70’s music scene. Spotted by Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein in Liverpool’s Cavern Club the office girl Priscilla White was groomed for a singing career. Besotted Bobby Willis tagged along as her road manager watching as Epstein propelled her to mega stardom. With her sights firmly set on stardom Cilla, as she was now named, strung Bobby along until she suddenly realised she couldn’t manage without him and finally married him.
This perfectly illustrates how Pope and Robert Willis don’t gloss over some of the less palatable aspects of Black’s rise to prominence.
Like the TV series the story is of Cilla’s journey up to the moment that Brian Epstein dies in mysterious circumstances leaving a contract for her very first BBC series and thence super stardom.
In the title role Kara Lily Hayworth takes the stage by storm and makes the role her own with, dare I say it, a better voice than the original. Alexander Patmore as Bobby Willis plays the second in command of her career with aplomb while Andrew Lancel’s wooden acting style perfectly fits the character of controlling and manipulating Brian Epstein.
A versatile set framed by railway arches and incorporating many drop down flies takes us from the almost poverty stricken Liverpool of Cilla’s childhood to the Abbey Road studios and various TV studios.
Neil Macdonald as her father, John, channels Stanley Holloway to good effect. Providing most of the onstage music are Bill Caple, Alex Harford, Joe Etherington and Michael Hawkins as Ringo Starr (very complimentary casting), George Harrison, Paul McCartney and John Lennon respectively. My only criticism would be that the band/orchestra sometimes overpowers Hayworth’s voice
While many of the musical numbers are from Cilla’s back catalogue there are also quite a few from other influential Mersey Beat artistes like the Beatles, Gerry and The Pacemakers and The Big Three.
This is a joyful musical that tells the story of a poor Liverpool girl who made it big by sheer talent.
Cilla is halfway through a national tour (again) and is at Curve until Saturday 13 October
Details of future tour dates can be found at http://www.cillathemusical.com/
First published on Western Gazette