REVIEW: Cilla -The Musical at The Liverpool Empire Theatre

Cilla: The Musical
The Liverpool Empire Theatre
September 7 – September 16, 2017
Author: Jeff Pope
Directors: Bill Kenwright & Bob Tomson
Cast Includes: Kara Lily Hayworth, Carl Au, Andrew Lancel, Paul Broughton, Pauline Fleming, Tom Sowinski,
Tom Christian, Michael Hawkins, Bill Caple.
Running Time: 2 hrs 50

Following on from the deserved acclaim meted out to the TV drama starring Sheridan Smith last year, Cilla – which is making its world premiere at The Liverpool Empire Theatre – was something of an inevitability. What wasn’t quite so foreseeable though was just how rich, witty, dynamic and out-and-out compelling it would be in front of a live audience.

From starry-eyed wannabe to global hit maker, Priscilla White became a household name as Miss Cilla Black, thanks to a misprint on a poster. With hits such as You’re My World, Alfie and her #1 smash hit Anyone Who Had A Heart causing a sensation under the steerage of Brian Epstein, Cilla had entered a world in which men – as in so many areas of the day – ruled.

Here though it is the entertainer’s steely and forthright determination that might surprise a few people. This is no saccharine sweet retelling of a life. Instead what we see is the girl from Scotland Road’s feisty sometimes demeaning streak, most of which is aimed at her future husband and manager Bobby Willis. As a result what we have is a rounded depiction rather one of someone ‘unreal’ and two dimensional.

Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson’s deft touch at the directorial helm is largely responsible for this, as we’re taken through the sixties in the company of some of the greatest singing artists of the day. The Mammas and The Pappas, Gerry and The Pacemakers and of course The Beatles are all given due nods in their helping of Cilla carve out her niche and defeat a host of insecurities in doing so.

The cast to a man and woman are magnificent. Paul Broughton as dad John White, with his quick wit, barbarous inclination and genuine warmth is a pleasure to behold and when alongside Pauline Fleming as Big Cilla, theirs is a chemistry made in heaven.

As Ringo Starr and John Lennon respectively, Bill Caple and Michael Hawkins are as cheeky-chappyish as you could wish for – although Hawkins’ rendition of Hide Your Love Away is uncannily accurate enough to cause shivers – whereas Tom Sowinski’s George Martin portrayal is at once as self-deprecating as it is insightful.

Yet it is without question the leading players who make this production of Cilla: The Musical. Waterloo Road stalwart Carl Au is superb as the as arguably the greatest rock Cilla had during her career, Bobby, with his vocal talents coming to the fore on sadly rare occasions. From the off we are on his side, particularly when Cilla’s somewhat ruthless streak rears its head.

Andrew Lancel is once again magnificent as a somewhat haunted Brian Epstein. Having played the role in the manager’s own story some two years previously, Lancel exudes confidence and brings to the fore the man’s homosexual demons and the beatings at the hands of his ‘lovers’ he is said to have endured. The skin of the man is drawn so paper thin we can see his heart not only break but beat ever faster with the anxiety of it all.

Lancel can sing too. His own version of a reprised Hide Your Love Away is eerie, tear-jerking stuff which – despite this being a show about Cilla Black – fits the story line extremely well.

However with the nuances off to a tee, the accent schooled brilliantly into confidently assured place and a singing voice that could be against all manner of health & safety laws given its ability to raise roofs, Kara Lily Hayworth in the title role is astonishing. From the moment she comes on stage, the research she has undertaken and the guidance she has lived and breathed since being announced as winner of the role from a field of thousands of hopefuls, is obvious.

No shrinking violet this. Hayworth commands the stage and makes it her very own. Never, in all the years of reviewing in this beautiful theatre can I recall a single song be so rapturously applauded as Anyone Who Had A Heart is here. The hair on the back of the neck leaps to attention the moment she begins and doesn’t settle again until its completion. Hayworth is without question a musical theatre star-in-the-making and it can only be hoped that other challenging roles will be tackled with as much aplomb.

Are there issues? Yes but the fact that Act II could be tightened more than a tad is quibbling in the extreme. Overall, Cilla: The Musical is an absolute triumph and if you can’t make the show in its subject’s home city then make sure you catch it wherever it roams over the coming months.

Cilla: The Musical. The Liverpool Empire. September 7 – September 16, 2017. For Tickets Click Here