I‘m of a generation that remembers Cilla Black the television star.
The iconic down to earth chirpy Liverpudlian with wit, host of Blind Date and Surprise Surprise, known for her catchphrases. Back in the 60’s though it was a different story, one of an office typist and nervous wannabe who dreamed of stardom.
It’s now over two years since Priscilla White, or as the nation knew her, Cilla Black, passed away. The successful 2014 television miniseries upon which the musical is based, written by Bafta award winner Jeff Pope is the story of a young girls ambition and a love story set in the swinging sixties. Thankfully our Cilla got to see the series and witness the renewed appreciation for her which portrayed her as the singer for which she wished to be remembered.
Even if like me you remember her most as a TV presenter, you’re likely to know her hits. She had two number ones in 1964 alone: Anyone Who Had a Heart and You’re My World. The first of the two closes the first act sending shivers down the spine. The latter opening the second act. She charted five more times between 1963 and 1971 so there isn’t an abundance of well-known material to feature, this is solved by using songs from her friends The Beatles or drawn from the repertoire of others artists she worked alongside, in order to move the story on such as The Mamas and the Papas and Gerry and the Pacemakers. The result is almost a jukebox musical, but one that more warmth and structure than many given that label.
Sadly Cilla never got to see this show which is a celebration of her life, but no doubt she would have been proud of this fantastic living testament to her career. Her memory is handled with dignity in this biopic production, something which ‘Beautiful’ the Carole King musical also got so right but ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ the Dusty Springfield musical got so wrong. Sure we hear about her rise to fame but we also delve into her private life and her relationship with the man she called ‘My Bobby’ and how her growing ambition very nearly destroyed their love.
Considering Cilla racked up over 50 years in the business in total, it is a fairly brief stage in her life which the musical covers, starting in 1960 performing in clubs around Merseyside to 1967 when she signs for a BBC Television series.
The production also serves as a lesson in the era in which she grew up. Mention Liverpool and music and your initial response is The Beatles, but for all their uniqueness, they were a product of the same thriving Mersey music scene.
Based on real life, there are a few dark moments which stop it from being a feel-good show from start to finish. The troubled personal life of manager Brian Epstein and his subsequent death being one, though the line ‘What does Brian Epstein know about music?’ is a running joke and provides just one of the ‘lorra’ laughs which keep the show in the majority upbeat.
I have to admit that I didn’t watch the critically acclaimed TV series on which the musical is based, in which Cilla was played by Sheridan Smith, but Kara Lily Hayworth, who beat thousands to the role at an open audition, is a fabulous Cilla. Dare I say she has better vocal ability than the original but as tributes go she does Cilla proud, capturing her warmth along with that unmistakable voice, providing a legacy for a unique entertainer.
Other notable performances are from the men in Cilla’s life, Carl Au as Bobby and Andrew Lancel as Brian Epstein, both of whom she loved in different ways. Michael Hawkins, Joshua Gannon, Alex Harford and Bill Caple as The Beatles could also carry their own tribute show as the Fab Four.
Any production by Bill Kenwright is usually a safe bet in terms of professionalism and entertainment. This relatively new addition is bound to run and run and become a classic. A fantastic performance all round by the cast along with Scott Alder’s musical direction has the audience up on their feet dancing before the final number.
I went along with no real expectations from the show but in all honesty, it’s more than Surprise Surprisingly good – it’s absolutely blimmin’ amazing, chuck!
By Tanya Louise
CILLA THE MUSICAL runs at the Theatre Royal Nottingham until Saturday 7 April 2018
£18 – £46.50 plus discounts for Royal Members*, Under 16s, Go Card** holders, and Groups
Box Office 0115 989 5555
The other characters in Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson’s production don’t have the stage time or the depth of script development to do more than support Cilla’s dynamic life force. Despite this Carl Au as Bobby and Andrew Lancel as Epstein bring some light and shade into Cilla’s life as they deal with ambitions and demons of their own.
Gary McCann’s handsome sets, a collection of theatre stages, TV and recording studios and domestic interiors, are contained by a series of proscenium arches cleverly differentiated by the light boxes within each that keep changing.
Scott Alder’s rousing musical direction keeps the hits coming, and even before the finale, it has the audience on its feet, joining in with the singing and dancing.