Reviewed by Kathryn Carr
Being of an age where I grew up with Blind Date and Surprise, Surprise on the telly, I’m familiar with Cilla Black, the TV Presenter. My knowledge of her music career wasn’t quite as comprehensive. I’d have struggled to tell you much about Cilla the Popstar if I hadn’t seen the TV drama starring Sheridan Smith, depicting the sadly missed Liverpudlian’s rise to fame. Having very much enjoyed the series on the box and as a fan of musicals, I was very excited to see the stage adaption of ‘Cilla’ at Salford Quay’s Lowry Theatre.
Starring Kara Lily Hayworth as the lead, this young lady smashed it when it came to justifying how she’d beat off thousands of hopefuls to take on the role of one of Britain’s most-loved entertainers. A member of girlband Zyrah Rose (who made the semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent), Kara is unquestionably a very talented performer. If anything, her vocal ability is a tad more impressive than the legend of a lady she portrays. Kara totally knocked the audience’s socks off with her rendition of Cilla’s first number one hit, ‘Anyone who had a Heart.’ For me, it was the stand out moment of the show. It was amazing. Whilst it’s evident that Kara has had classical singing tuition, particularly in her powerful performance of ‘Alfie’, there’s more than a nod to Cilla’s unmistakable singing style despite some slightly operatic moments. As an actress, Kara captures Cilla’s warmth, gritty determination and that all important likeability factor. My advice is to not watch this show expecting an impersonation of a voice. Kara captures elements of Cilla’s singing style but her performance is also a blend of old and new talent, one that as a tribute does Cilla proud but also showcases the abilities of Kara as her contemporary.
‘Cilla’ based on the TV drama of the same name, written by BAFTA award-winning Jeff Pope, is first and foremost the story of an ambitious twenty-something girl who wants to make it in music. Considering showbusiness was lucky enough to enjoy Cilla’s company for over fifty years, the musical reveals just a tiny part of her life, yet packs in a lot. Several stories are weaved through Cilla’s rise to fame; it could have been a tangle of threads but the tales are clear and easy to follow, forming a neat tapestry of this important period. The love story of Cilla and (my) Bobby is heartwarmingly told, with the audience sharing smiles and shenanigans, tears and tantrums with the couple. Bobby Willis played by Alexander Patmore really made Act One for me, with his charming ways and comical quest to woo Cilla. His repetition of the line, ‘What does Brian Epstein know about music?’ is just one example of how upbeat and laughter-rich the show is.
Brian (Manager of Cilla and The Beatles) is played by Andrew Lancel (those who have tuned in to The Bill and Corrie will know his face). Initially, I wasn’t sure about his portrayal of the music entrepreneur and I thought he was too close to cliché but by the end of the show, I was completely taken by his talents. Andrew’s performance was the one that tugged at my heartstrings the most. It’s his part in a gripping, dark subplot where he balances the perfect amount of vulnerability with self-restraint to give us an insight into his character’s personal pain and his downward spiral alongside the rise of the Beatles. It was seeing Andrew on stage, out of character, during the finale, really enjoying a boogie and a singalong, super proud smile on his face, that cemented my belief in him as a superb actor.
The story is set to a fantastic 60’s soundtrack featuring Cilla’s hits and uses the songs of other artists she worked alongside to move the story on. The band in its various guises are faultless and hits including ‘I like it’ by Gerry and the Pacemakers, ‘California Dreaming’ by the Mamas and Papas and ‘Twist and Shout’ by The Beatles complement the ballads.
The show’s staging is the best I have ever witnessed with super slick and very clever transitions, transporting the audience from scene to scene, from Cilla’s front room to The Cavern Club and back again. Each set worked in helping to convey the story, with costumes helping to identify key characters. I was sat on the sofa with Cilla’s Dad, dancing with her pals and left slightly daunted by Burt Bacharach.
Directed by one of the UK’s most successful theatre producers Bill Kenwright, perhaps best known for Blood Brothers, this depiction of Cilla’s start to a long lived and loved career is both endearing and exciting. The show is jam-packed with talent both on and off stage. You don’t have to know much about Cilla to enjoy this show, it’s the themes, the characters and the music that make this such an enjoyable watch. I have a lorra, lorra love for Cilla – The Musical.
I watched ‘Cilla’ at The Lowry Theatre, one of my favourite North-West (and UK) venues. Easily accessible by car with reasonably priced parking on its doorstep, the theatre also has good local transport links. As ever, I was welcomed by friendly staff, enjoyed the comfortable surroundings and benefited from an excellent choice of dining and drink establishments.
The Lowry presents audiences with a diverse programme of theatre, opera, musicals, dance, music, comedy and visual art as well as events and activities. I enjoyed ‘Cilla’ with my Mum, and in the past I’ve visited with my other half, my two young daughters and with friends. There’s something for absolutely everyone.
Tickets cost from £18 to £48 (booking fees may apply).
Cilla – The Musical is at The Lowry in Manchester from 28 August to 1 September 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit www.thelowry.com or call the box office on 0843 208 6000.
Cilla is touring the UK with dates until December 2018, with more to be confirmed. See www.cilllathemusical.com.
The Lowry, Pier 8, Salford Quays, Manchester, M50 3AZ | 0843 208 6000