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Cilla The Musical review

Bill Kenwright’s musical biography retells the story of a sixties icon through the music which defined an era.

Kara Lily Hayworth Cilla The Musical at Leeds Grand Theatre Photo Matt Martin.
Kara Lily Hayworth Cilla The Musical at Leeds Grand Theatre Photo Matt Martin.

Cilla Black will be remembered by a generation as the elfin Scouser who shot from the Sixties’ Mersey scene to score huge hits on both sides of Atlantic. For the next generation, she became a cornerstone of Saturday night television and the highest-paid host of her time. For today’s audience, she’s something of an enigma – ready to be rediscovered through Cilla The Musical at Leeds Grand Theatre.

Priscilla White was discovered in the early Sixties by Brian Epstein, performing in Liverpool’s iconic Cavern Club. Sharing the mic with rising stars such as The Beatles, the tenacious Cilla Black – as she’d be renamed – soon found herself with a hit record deal which propelled her from the docks of Vaxhaul to international stardom. Cilla The Musical is the family-friendly story of how she made it; met the love of her life; encountered tragedy along the way and became a part of pop history – all set against a jukebox compilation of classic Sixties hits.

Whilst the rudimentary plot doesn’t carry much dramatic weight, the truth behind the tale is nevertheless loaded with nostalgia, successfully evoking a golden era where pop music moulded the values of a whole teen generation. This is a musical which proudly champions Liverpool and the Sixties; recreating a movement of miniskirts and mop-top haircuts with a lightness of touch. Don’t expect a polemic against the struggles of British industry in the north or the beginnings of feminism; Cilla The Musical is just about an ordinary girl with an extraordinary voice, told through the songs which made it happen. It’s a very welcoming, immersive and easy-going show, but it also packs a punch.

Kara Lily Hayworth stars in Cilla The Musical. Photo Matt Martin.

Kara Lily Hayworth stars in Cilla The Musical. Photo Matt Martin.

Musical accompaniment is performed live onstage, rotating bands such as The Big Three and Gerry and the Pacemakers with The Beatles. Some dodgy wigs aside, the musicians hand over a tight, rich period sound and their interaction with the action secures an even transition from music to dramatic interlude.

Offering a playlist of over 25 numbers, there’s no shortage of Sixties chart-toppers, even if some of the hits are delivered as cut-down ditties. The big hitters come in the form of a show-stopping performance of Anyone Who Had a Heart (a number 1 for Cilla in 1964), the diva-vehicle You’re My World (another number 1) and a brassy rendition of Step Inside Love – the singer’s keynote anthem specially composed by Paul McCartney.

The show hinges on its standout central performance from Kara Lily Hayworth, who unpacks the core elements of Cilla’s persona from accent, poise and vocal to the subtleties of her steely attitude. Hayworth also evokes Cilla’s unmatched camera-friendly charisma – a relaxed self-confidence that made Cilla so appealing with big audiences.

Cilla’s vocal range was one of her greatest features and Hayworth excels in this regard by offering more control in the higher registers. On occasion, Cilla could be shrill and strident, however Hayworth delivers a soaring resonance which is powerful, yet never piercing. There’s also a hallmark Scouse inflection throughout, providing that gentle reminder of the singer’s untrained routes.

Supporting performances come from Andrew Lancel in a sympathetic study of the self-destructive Epstein, whilst Cilla’s famously cited hardball husband Bobby is played with a remarkably romantic flair by Alexander Patmore. Both get the opportunity to flex their vocal muscles and provide a welcome counter to the Cilla’s soaring feminine lead.

Cilla The Musical is a straight-up, well-rounded and uplifting musical which pays homage to a unique icon of British popular culture. It’s a great way to rediscover the original work which made her a star at the heart of the pop revolution. Don’t miss it – step inside and find yourself a place.

Cast: Kara Lily Hayworth, Andrew Lancel, Alexander Patmore, Neil Macdonald, Jayne Ashley, Tom Dunlea, Billie Hardy, Gemma Brodrick, Harriette Mullen, Bill Caple, Joe Etherington, Timothy Lucas, Michael Hawkins, Alan Howell, Jay Osborne, Alex Harford, Gary Mitchinson, Tom Sowinski, Chloe Edwards-Wood, Christopher Weeks. Directors: Bill Kenwright & Bob Tomson Writer: Jeff Pope Theatre: Leeds Grand Theatre Dates: 16th to 20th October 2018.

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