Adapted from Jeff Pope’s own acclaimed 2014 TV mini-series starring Sheridan Smith, Cilla The Musical cashes in on the never-ending nostalgia for all things 1960s as well as deftly portraying Cilla Black’s rags to riches journey from Liverpool’s ‘Scotty’ Road to stardom.
Behind the toothy smile of the girl next door, Black was a woman of blinding ambition, and Pope doesn’t shy away from highlighting the sometimes less than palatable aspects of Black’s personality: forcing her clearly talented husband Bobby Willis to abandon a promising career is only one example.
Pope has realised the world of the 1960s on stage with a sure touch: a world that will be familiar to anyone who lived through the era. Portraying the comparative ordinariness of the stars of the 60s – waiting in the phone box at the end of the road to find out if your song has hit number one. There’s also a particular resonance with the sectarian divide in Liverpool reflecting Glasgow’s own.
The narrative has drive, the first act filled with youthful ambition, the second taking a darker turn as it portrays Brian Epstein’s untimely demise and Willis and Black’s crumbling relationship.
It’s the three B’s who feature largest in the show: Black, Bobby Willis and Brian Epstein. Carl Au is a standout as husband Bobby with a fantastic voice of his own and Andrew Lancel is impressive as the tortured and troubled Epstein, both capture the hearts and minds of the audience. It’s refreshing to see Willis given due credit for the role he played in making the woman who was to become his wife, a huge star.
Fans of the era will also be delighted to know that another B, The Beatles, who played a critical role in Black’s success also appear, played with aplomb by Joshua Gannon, Michael Hawkins, Alex Harford and Bill Caple. The energy levels lift at their gifted musicianship. Among the supporting characters, Pauline Fleming and Neil MacDonald as Cilla’s parents make their mark as do Billie Hardy and Gemma Broderick-Bower as pals Pat and Pauline and Tom Christian as Bobby’s brother Kenny Willis. In their entirety, the cast are top-notch and much of the whole endeavour’s success is due to their considerable talent.
In the title role Kara Lily Hayworth looks nothing like Black, but manages to convey her larger than life personality. Vocally she’s utterly on-point, indeed she has one of the finest voices I’ve heard in a very long time. Her continued success looks assured.
The story stops in 1967 and Black had relatively few hits: Anyone Who Had a Heart, You’re My World, Love of The Loved and Something Tell’s Me are all here, but it’s necessary to utilise the hits of other 60s stars to drive the story along, there are songs from fellow Liverpudlians Gerry and the Pacemakers and US stars The Mamas and Papas (fabulously portrayed by members of the ensemble), laudably all the songs featured feel necessary to the narrative.
This is a hugely entertaining and nigh-on unmissable production thanks to Pope’s sure-footed script and a cast of supreme quality. There’s so much to enjoy here, well worth seeing even if you are not a particular fan of the woman herself.
Runs until Saturday February 2018 at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow.