Kara Lily Hayworth takes on the iconic role of Cilla. Picture: Matt Martin

Cilla – The Musical

The New Alexandra Theatre


Anyone over the age of 30 will know that Cilla Black was an iconic element of British entertainment with her long musical career and much-loved presence on variety TV.

It is inevitable then that after her death her legacy would be remembered as is often now the way. The TV drama written by Jeff Pope starring Sheridan Smith charted her meteoric rise to fame and dared to show the more troubled side of her personal life and the issues within the 60’s music scene.

The TV drama ended with her first number one and here in Cilla - the musical that’s just the content of the first half. The second half explores her attempt to `break ‘ America , the demise of her intimate relationships and the often tragic life of her manager Brian Epstein.

The transition from the documentary to the stage production is not by any means perfect with the dramatic elements sometimes dragging out and at odds with the music. But you can forgive anything in this production as it features a central spellbinding performance that is so powerful and emotional it overcomes any perceived flaws.

The first half sees a nervous Cilla fronting a series of pleasant pop bands one of them being The Beatles. It’s nostalgic fun and entertaining. She’s then discovered by Brian Epstein , the then Beatles manager, and goes to London to record her first record which barely sees the light of day. Then Epstein gives her signature sound a power ballad and the song that made her famous, Anyone Who Had a Heart. For us in the audience after 40 minutes of pleasant upbeat Mersey pop music, you simply are not ready for the emotional power of this moment.

Up till then Kara Lily Hayworth as Cilla has hardly been tasked in her vocal abilities but in the setting of the Abbey Road recording studio it all changes. Suddenly now she’s given the quality writing that is Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and this powerful ballad with it lush strings and complex arrangement literally fills the theatre with something that’s quite magical and the effect is so powerful and emotional it brought several of the audience to tears.

cilla cast

It would be fair to say that Miss Hayworth who fought hard to get the part is being discovered herself with this song much the way that Cilla was when she sang it. Whilst Cilla had a very distinctive sound it could be argued that Kara possesses a greater technical quality to control every note and nuance.

For Cilla, as the song goes to number one she and her long-time partner Bobby played by Carl Au find out the joyous news via a public telephone box. As the curtain falls on the first half you are still reeling from the performance of the song and fired up to see how the story continues.

The second half manages to continue to shoe horn in 60’s hits again by other artists such as The Mamas and the Papas, Gerry and the Pacemakers and again The Beatles.

However everyone’s waiting for the Cilla songs and then they arrive. Superb renditions of You’re My World, Alfie, Love of the Loved, Something Tells Me and It’s For You. Whilst the drama seems cumbersome at times it is crucial to understand how her career evolves and how the lives of those around her are affected.

Then as her musical career starts to fade it signals the opening door to the birth of her TV career and we are reminded that this was the last crucial managerial decision of Epstein before his death.

Andrew Lancel played the part of Brian Epstein and did a fine job of balancing the troubled managers’ personal life against his love of music and his clients. There’s scouser humour from Pauline Fleming and Neil MacDonald as Cilla’s parents. There’s also an overtone of the religious differences of Protestants and Catholics from the time, just enough to suggest life was not that easy and that the struggle for success was real.

The show ends with the full cast performing an assortment of 60’s pop hits that got the audience up on their feet. The final number though was something of a mistake as it came in the form of a slightly cheesy song newly written for nostalgic effect. It was nowhere near the quality to what we had seen and heard during the evening and was out of keeping with Cilla story.

If the producers wanted poignancy then an arrangement of one of Cillas ballads would have been a better ending. I guess you can’t everything though and the final standing ovation proved it was still worth the ticket price as this show has so much to offer.

Go to see it just for the great songs, the fantastic vocal performance of Kara Lily Hayworth, as a fitting tribute to a legend of British entertainment and a celebration of an era when the music really was written for anyone who has a heart. To 14-10-17.

Jeff Grant


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