Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Cilla The Musical

Jeff Pope
Bill Kenwright production
21 November 2017 to 25 November 2017

Anyone Who Has A Heart, to mis-quote Cilla Black’s 1964 number one hit, will find it difficult not to have it at least slightly warmed by this musical biog. Especially if they are of a certain age, because it’s quite a wallow in nostalgia.

It’s an adaptation of the ITV mini-series of three years ago, then, raising the stakes just a little, starring no less than Sheridan Smith.

Taking on the reincarnated stage Cilla, Kara Lily Hayworth - discovered via open audition, where she queued for hours before being seen - thus has a pretty daunting task.

But happily it doesn’t faze her in the least, absolutely not at all. Playing a youthful version of the girl who became a people’s diva, she provides a spine-tingling theatrical moment or two as she belts out the aforesaid Anyone Who Had A Heart and a couple of others to max impact and, in a musical that in the second half in particular is wordier and more book-based than is usual for the genre, proves pretty decent with the drama too.

The story concentrates on the early years, ending just as Cilla was morphing into television presenter and personality, re-telling her rise to fame, from office typist, to performing in the Liverpool clubs and then on to singer managed by Brian Epstein.

It was an introduction to Epstein by a certain Ringo Starr that changed Priscilla White’s life. By the time she was 25 she was singer Cilla Black, Number One selling artist and at the forefront of the British Pop music scene.

She had two number one hits in 1964 - Anyone and You're My World. But it wasn’t a sustained, prolific, pop career and the show deals with this by introducing other hits of the period that were either covered by her or performed by her mates and other contemporaries, the Beatles of course but also Mamas and the Papas and Gerry and the Pacemakers, turning it very much into a general soundtrack of the sixties.

The second half, with the usual pop star story of management troubles (though with something of a twist as the management is Epstein and his interesting personal life) and relationships gets a little darker and the tale as a whole here ends in 1967, before offspring arrived and before the turn in her career that led on to more mature fame.

Good performances too from Carl Au as the boyish and shy but totally devoted Bobby and Andrew Lancel as the mercurial Epstein.

It’s not as in yer face as some of the ilk and better for it, plenty of sound and light and big brick arches of a set but nothing overly flashy. Great band, MD Scott Alder. A lot of wigs.

At pushing three hours it’s definitely too long but then again there is a surprising amount of content.

Reviewer: Alan Hulme


Comment by David Cunningham

In adapting Jeff Pope’s TV drama Cilla to a stage musical co-directors Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson do more than just add a lot of songs; they make a shift from kitchen-sink drama to comedy. Grinding poverty and religious intolerance feature, but are treated lightly, in this warm musical. This is a very romantic view - the 1960’s as it probably wasn’t but as we’d like to think it was- and an undeniable crowd -pleaser.

The elephant in the theatre in creating a musical rather than a play about Cilla Black is that, Alfie aside, her songs are fairly bland. Any emotional engagement comes from Kara Lily Hayworth’s powerhouse performance rather than the content of the songs made famous by Cilla Black. Accordingly the musical is stuffed with other songs drawn from the period. As this was the golden era of Tin Pan Alley and Motown you can’t really complain although it does push the running time to an uncomfortable length .