Theatre Review: CILLA THE MUSICAL – The Lowry, Salford

Kara Lily Hayworth as Cilla Black in CILLA THE MUSICAL. Photo: Matt Martin

Kara Lily Hayworth as Cilla Black in CILLA THE MUSICAL. Photo: Matt Martin

CILLA THE MUSICAL is an entertaining tribute to the life and music of Cilla Black

In many ways, it was a brave decision to bring CILLA THE MUSICAL to the stage. While Cilla’s rags-to-riches story is certainly a fascinating one, the late pop star’s back catalogue is hardly big enough to fill a two-hour jukebox musical. Yet, somehow Jeff Pope’s heart-warming musical adaptation works.

Inspired by the critically acclaimed ITV mini-series, CILLA THE MUSICAL tells the extraordinary life of Cilla Black (born Priscilla White), an ordinary teenage girl from Liverpool who became a star. The stage biography charts her rocky, yet incredible, rise to fame from office typist to 1960s singer managed by Brian Epstein, as well as her growing romance with her road manager and eventual husband Bobby Willis.

Like BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL, CILLA THE MUSICAL is a show built not just around the songs but also the personal life of its subject. BAFTA award-winning writer Jeff Pope has fashioned the admittedly clichéd rags-to-riches story with a strong narrative. Coloured by her fierce ambition but also by the man who loved her, CILLA THE MUSICAL captures a specific moment in Liverpool’s musical history, as well as one woman’s life.

The cast of CILLA THE MUSICAL. Photo: Matt Martin

The cast of CILLA THE MUSICAL. Photo: Matt Martin

Much of the success of this production lies in the casting of Kara Lily Hayworth as Cilla who is note perfect throughout. Striking a fine balance between impersonation and homage, Hayworth brings life and soul to the musical with her chillingly powerful rendition of ANYONE WHO HAD A HEART at the end of act one particularly standing out as a highlight.

Elsewhere, Alexander Patmore’s portrayal as Cilla’s husband Bobby Willis is spot on, his sensitive and loyal nature showcasing why the pair were a life-long unbreakable partnership. Andrew Lancel also does well with an underwritten Brian Epstein, bringing light and shade into Cilla’s life as he deals with ambitions and demons of his own.

In terms of music, Scott Alder’s musical score wisely incorporates other hits from the period including TWIST AND SHOUT by The Beatles, CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’ by The Mamas and The Papas and I LIKE IT by Gerry and the Pacemakers, alongside Cilla’s greatest hits ANYONE WHO HAD A HEART, YOU’RE MY WORLD, ALFIE and SOMETHING TELLS ME.

Kara Lily Hayworth as Cilla Black in CILLA THE MUSICAL. Photo: Matt Martin

Kara Lily Hayworth as Cilla Black in CILLA THE MUSICAL. Photo: Matt Martin

Yet, while the first half bursts with energy, the second half ultimately lacks the same focus and perfectly-pitched performances as the first, and some of the larger musical arrangements tend to drown out Hayworth’s brilliant voice.

There’s also a sense that some of the musical numbers, particularly in the first half, seem to exist to fill time rather than drive the narrative forward and as such, the show at times lacks the necessary depth to keep you fully engaged.

That said, there is plenty to like here, with the cast performances, in particular, standing out, as well as Gary McCann’s handsome sets, which together with Nick Riching’s lighting design, help to bring the bricked wall and dark archways of the Cavern Club to life.

All in all, a crowd-pleasing musical biography of a beloved superstar and a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

3.5 out of 5 stars

CILLA THE MUSICAL runs at The Lowry, Salford until 1 September 2018