Cilla the Musical stops off at The Playhouse Theatre in Edinburgh this week, and I have to admit that this was one show that I was a bit apprehensive about as, in the wrong hands, this show could easily have been a disaster. There was never going to be a middle ground with this show, it was either going to be a huge success or a huge failure, and I am pleased to say that like Cilla Black herself, the show is a huge success.
There were several reasons for my apprehension over this show. Firstly, Cilla Black (formerly White) was an entertainer much loved by the British public and I don’t think an audience would have taken well to anything that did not do justice to her memory. Secondly, some of Cilla’s most memorable chart hits –“Anyone Who Had a Heart”, “You’re My World” and “Alfie” are actually complex and difficult songs to sing, so someone special was needed to play Cilla. Thirdly, the hugely successful “Cilla” television mini-series written by Jeff Pope and starring Sheridan Smith as Cilla. Whoever was going to take on this lead role had to somehow stay true to not only Cilla herself, but also break free of the very long shadow cast by Sheridan Smith in this role. I am pleased to say that Kara Lily Hayworth as Cilla successfully treats the memory of Cilla with great respect in this show, does a great job on all the vocals, and breaks free of the Sheridan Smith portrayal and brings enough of her own individuality to this performance to make this part her own.
Cilla the Musical is definitely not a cash in on the memory of Cilla Black, in fact exactly the opposite, a loving tribute to her memory. This show is actually a musical stage production based on the television mini-series and written again by Jeff Pope. Like the mini series, the musical is fully authorised by the family, and one of Cilla and Bobby’s sons Robert Willis is Executive Producer, and Cilla herself approved first drafts of this project.
Cilla the Musical could so easily have been titled “A Fairy Tale of Liverpool”, because that is what this story is, a fairy tale not only of how a young girl from the very working class Scotland Street in Liverpool became not only a singing star, but a massive television star and entertainer, who like a princess in a fairy tale also found her true love - Bobby Willis. Add into that Cilla’s connection to the Cavern club and the Liverpool music scene of the early 1960s and watching an old friend (Ringo) join the Beatles and being around as that little local band become the most important band in Pop Music history, and it is fair to say that more than a little bit of magic was sprinkled on a little part of Liverpool in the early 1960s.
This now almost mythical time in British pop music history is captured well by the cast playing the “Liverpool and Cavern Club Bands” – The Big Three, Rory Storm and The Hurricanes and of course The Beatles and the strength of this show is that although the music of the period is re-created so well, it is the story of Cilla herself and those around her that give this show its depth. Like all the best productions in musical theatre, this story will hold up as a dramatic piece of work in its own right without the music, and a big part of that success goes to our supporting cast – Andrew Lancel (Brian Epstein), Pauline Fleming (Big Cilla – Cilla’s Mother) and Paul Broughton (John White – Cilla’s Father). There are two stories here though, the story of Cilla Black the performer and the love story of Cilla Black and Bobby Willis the couple unchanged by all the success, and still very ordinary people. Carl Au as Bobby is a perfect fit for this part, providing not only some very good vocals to songs in his own right, but also providing Kara Lily Hayworth with a believable love interest to give her more dramatic performance parts some depth and believability. There is one song in this show that perfectly captures this love story and says everything about their relationship. You will understand everything as soon as you hear this song.
Kara Lily Hayworth had to make the big Cilla songs her own here, and one of my favourite songs of all time is “You’re My World” and Kara Lily did a perfect job on this one (and the others). This song is actually not British, but Italian. It was originally recorded as "Il Mio Mondo" ("My World") by Umberto Bindi (and co-written with Gino Paoli), but it is the English language version with those wonderful new lyrics by Carl Sigman as "You're My World" that many people now identify with. Cilla really did make this song her own, and the arrangements and orchestration (very typical of Italian songs of this period) make it a very difficult song to perform properly, so huge credit to Kara Lily’s version.
I think it fair to say that with this performance as Cilla, after a solid body of work over many years in theatre, Kara Lily Hayworth has truly arrived and musical theatre has a new star.
Review by Tom King