There came a point during Cilla the Musical where moments after Kara Lily Hayworth had delivered a spine tingling rendition of ‘Anyone who had a Heart’ the audience launched into an impromptu round of applause. It’s that kind of ringing endorsement that shows what makes this production such a hit with those in the aisles.
Cilla the Musical is essentially the stage version of the original 2014 television miniseries that starred Sheridan Smith as the iconic Cilla Black. That television series, written by Jeff Pope, focussed not on Cilla the television star that we all became accustomed to, but the singing sensation that had dominated the 1960s with a string of hits. It also shone a light on her relationship with Bobby Willis, their turbulent romance providing a backdrop to her rise as a popular recording artist.
Playing the legendary performer is Kara Hayworth, who has some pretty big shoes to fill. It is a daunting role, for the comparisons do not stop at just Cilla Black, but also that of Sheridan Smith, who was BAFTA nominated for her role in the television miniseries. Kara definitely hits the high notes where it matters – and that is the singing. There’d be no point if Kara was not able to give a realistic impression of the Scouse song starlet in full voice. And boy does she. Belting out all of Cilla’s greatest hits from the Burt Bacharach penned Alfie to Paul McArtney’s Step Inside Love.
Hayworth’s mesmeric melodies and dulcet tones salvage her performance and that of the show as a whole. There is a lack of punch here, especially in the dramatic moments, where you are wanting and waiting for that proverbial kitchen sink moment to envelop you. It’s only during the more subtler aspects that Bill Kenwright’s production shines. But, if I am honest, it’s only an interlude because it feels like you are just waiting for the next big number.
There are some notable highlights in the guise of Neil McDonald and Pauline Fleming, who are shamelessly scene stealers in virtually every scene they appear as Cilla’s parents, Big Cilla and John White. What’s more, this is a production who immerses itself in the Merseybeat of it’s era and is happy to indulge in an array of hits from Cilla Black as well as The Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers. There is even room for some Stateside inspired rock with renditions of Dancing in the Street and a bizarre version of a Mama and Papas tribute act performing California Dreamin.
Cilla always wanted to be remembered as a singer and the television miniseries went some way in appreciating what propelled her to stardom in the first place. This musical production draws on that and continues her legacy by putting her music at the very forefront of her story.
Verdict: A barnstorming evening of listening to the best of the Merseybeat sound of the 1960s and showcasing Cilla Black’s rise to pop stardom through her hits and her relationship with Bobby Willis.