The musical theatre version of the life of Cilla Black has been hotly anticipated for some time. After a hit TV series featuring the songs and stories of the Liverpudlian singer’s rise to fame took the nation by storm, a stage production is bound to be high profile. There’s a plethora of biographical shows doing the rounds at the moment with Carole King and Rod Stewart’s musical life stories coming to the Edinburgh Playhouse soon, so it appears to be a format that’s here to stay.
The casting aspect of this peaked public intrigue too, where nationwide open auditions resulted in Kara Lily Hayworth winning the title role. She was the favourite of Cilla’s son (and executive producer of the show) Robert Willis and for good reason. Hayworth’s voice is phenomenal and it’s remarkable to think she was discovered through an open audition. Her belt of Anyone Who Had a Heart is truly spine tingling and does the original true justice, a challenge given that the audience is full of fans of the original. It’s not only her singing that demonstrates great talent either. This show had its opening night in Liverpool and it must’ve been intimidating mimicking the accent and speech of one of the city’s best loved stars in her hometown, but her ability to emulate Cilla’s distinctive speaking voice, intonation and mannerisms is fantastic, with an uncanny level of accuracy.
There’s a good deal of warmth and likeability in the performances. Carl Au as Bobby really captures our hearts, as does Andrew Lancel as the troubled Brian Epstein and the ensemble work hard throughout to engage and entertain us. The essence of life in Liverpool in the 1960s is captured beautifully, with the authenticity of the costumes adding to the feeling that we’re being transported back in time. As always with these kind of large scale productions, the set and lighting is stunning and cleverly designed, making swift changes in location and atmosphere believable and evocative.
While Cilla had some big hits, there are certainly not enough to fill two hours and many other songs from the time are used to make tenuous links to the evolving story line. It’s well known that the songstress was a friend of The Beatles and their occasional numbers in this is a welcome addition, particularly the rousing Twist and Shout. However, some of the songs seem out of place – particularly so a duet of You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling between Bobby and Cilla. In general the script and flow of the story is somewhat disjointed as are some of the incidental moments, leaving it feeling frankly a bit dull in places. For those who aren’t already die hard Cilla fans this makes it a bit underwhelming, but for those who are, this is a crowd pleasing tribute to a national treasure.
Cilla The Musical runs until 23rd September at Edinburgh Playhouse.