Cilla – The Musical is a highly entertaining tribute to the life and music of Cilla Black and the Mersey Beat era. It sparkles and shines. The focus is maintained on Cilla and the music at all times, and Kara Lily Hayworth in the title role is a star who also sparkle and shines.
Oh you are a mucky kid, dirty as a dustbin lid.
When he hears the things that you did, you’ll get a belt from your dad.(Liverpool Lullaby, Stan Kelly)
Liverpool Lullaby is redolent of the working man’s life in the Liverpool of the 1960’s just as Cilla – The Musical represents the Mersey Beat era. It’s a haunting melody and one of the many numbers in Cilla, currently being performed at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking as part of a UK touring season.
Jeff Pope adapted his acclaimed mini-series (ITV3 2014) for the stage, working with Cilla’s son Robert Willis. Willis says that his mother, a fan of the mini-series, would have loved the stage Musical and the hype around the opening at The Liverpool Empire Theatre in 2017. Sadly, Cilla died after an accident in 2015.
Kara Lily Hayworth is Cilla. Hayworth has not chosen to be an imitation, instead presenting the essence of the gregarious and popular singer. There are moments when she sounds like Cilla, but each song is uniquely Hayworth and the character is more believable for the contrast.
The programme includes seventeen numbers for Hayworth to blast her way through. From the tame beginning of Zip-a-dee Doo Dah, her stage debut with The Big Three, through to the excruciatingly bad audition for Brian Epstein, Til There Was You, and on to the big hits, Hayworth delivers one dynamic vocal after another and all delivered with intelligent interpretations. Not quite Cilla Black, but convincing in the portrayal.
Bobby Willis is the man who ultimately becomes Cilla’s manager and then her husband. He is an endearing character with an open devotion to the star. The love story is as important to this show as that of the rise of one of Britain’s favourite divas. When Cilla breaks up the relationship with Bobby, the musical representation of that is encapsulated in a duet of You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling. Carl Au in the role of Bobby joins Hayworth in this, one of the most beautiful numbers of the show. Au and Hayworth have a strong on-stage relationship and their voices are evenly matched in this classic song. It is a blend that has the power to transport the listener as good music is intended to do.
The role of Brian Epstein is sympathetically treated in this production. Played by Andrew Lancel, this sub-plot is the story of the gradual decline of a business man who was totally in control, to a man who became more dependent on drugs and alcohol: habits that lead to a fatal overdose in 1967. Lancel holds a fine line and delivers a believable portrait of a man in great distress.
Tom Christian also gives the role of Kenny Willis, older brother to Bobby, a level of complexity that peaks in the scene where he delivers news of their father’s death to an absent Bobby. The brothers are set on opposite sides of the stage and the focus is entirely on Christian as he breaks down. An emotional highlight of the show.
Cilla’s family and friends are all skilled performers. The family life is charicatured neatly with Big Cilla (the mother) singing an a capella ditty, Chime Bells. It’s a comedic entrance and the beginning of a running joke about Big Cilla’s singing career. John White, Cilla’s dad, delivers archetypal bombastic one-liners to define his character. Pauline Fleming and Neil McDonald in the parental roles make a delightful pair on-stage and their scenes are full of energy and warmth.
Providing musical accompaniment is a stable of on and off stage musicians led by Musical Director Scott Adler. All the variations of the ensemble provide a tight sound that consistently evokes the era in music. Will Kinnon is a stand out both for his excellent trumpet playing but also in his role of Daniel, the lightweight assistant to Epstein.
Supporting the cast is the clever design of Gary McCann. The set whirls around efficiently to represent many different scenes and it has a cohesive thread tying it all together, including annelaborate costume plot. This is further enhanced by the lighting design of Nick Richings to provide some visually stunning moments.
The production team has worked together to ensure that focus is maintained on Cilla and the music at all times. Director Bill Kenwright, together with Bob Tomson and Carole Todd, have driven the cast to deliver the snappy dialogue with intelligence. There is nothing to detract from the solidity of the music which is set within an authentic representation of the times. This is apparent in the opening scenes in the Cavern, Cilla at the Palladium, Cilla in the recording studios and, eventually, Cilla in the television studio.
Cilla – The Musical is a highly entertaining tribute to the life and music of Cilla Black and the Mersey Beat era. It sparkles and shines.