Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Developed from BAFTA award winner Jeff Pope’s critically acclaimed 2014 ITV mini-series starring Sheridan Smith, Cilla the Musical is a new stage biography which tells the story of Liverpool’s most famous red-head, from her early rise to fame to the start of her much celebrated TV career.
Detailing her fierce ambition, the complexities of her relationship with boyfriend then Manager then husband Bobby Willis and the close friendship they both had with troubled Manager Brian Epstein, Cilla is a nostalgic and heart-warming jukebox musical featuring both Cilla’s hits and other fan favourites from the period, including The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Mamma’s and The Pappas. Kara Lily Hayworth more than succeeds in stepping into Cilla’s footsteps, having won the role through a tough open audition process, Hayworth belts out showstopper after showstopper with ease and oozes style. With stunning vocals, perfect Cilla like mannerisms and a flawless Scouse accent her performance is superb. When Hayworth closes Act I with Cilla’s 1964 number one hit ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ she literally brings the house down, goose-bump inducing brilliance, expertly delivered.
Both Carl Au as Bobby and Andrew Lancel as Brian Epstein are excellently cast. The chemistry between Au and Hayworth as Bobby and Cilla is wonderful; Au adds great depth to the character who many of us knew little about other than him being ‘our Bobby’. Lancel plays tormented and troubled Epstein sensitively, a true gentleman always having time for his acts despite his own personal demons.
Gary McCann’s set is impressive, the Cavern, various recording studios, the London Palladium, and even Cilla’s childhood home, all feature, contained within a series of proscenium arches, expertly lit by Nick Richings. Cilla the musical has clearly been a labour of love for director Bill Kenwright, offering audiences a charming and nostalgic walk down memory lane, act one for me lingers slightly too long in the Cavern days, although the performances are exceptional (Michael Hawkins as John Lennon is fantastic) the pace becomes a little slow, shaving a couple of the songs from this section wouldn’t be of any detriment to the story and would keep the audience fully engaged for the duration. That said, Cilla the Musical is a fantastically fun show, which at its heart is ultimately a love story, not one love story but several, the love story of Bobby and Cilla, Cilla’s love for the music, Brian’s love for his artist, Brian and Bobby’s at times love/hate relationship with each other and even our love for the Scottie Road girl who rose from rags to riches but always remained true to her Liverpudlian roots.
Cilla the Musical is a celebration, funny, charming and chock-full of superb showstoppers, a hugely entertaining night out and fully deserving of the standing ovation received.
On at the Palace theatre until Saturday 25th November tickets available here.