Theatre Review: Cilla The Musical, New Theatre, Cardiff

Cilla The Musical is the natural stage evolution of Jeff Pope’s script following the TV series Cilla which starred Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black three years ago.

Produced by Bill Kenwright and Laurie Mansfield and executive produced by Cilla’s son, Robert Willis, the musical’s storyline neatly weaves itself around a select soundtrack of Mersey Beat era hits popularised by The Big Three, Gerry & The Pacemakers, The Beatles and Cilla herself.

The musical shows the transformation of filing clerk Priscilla White singing with her friends in the squalor of Liverpool’s Cavern Club to pop stardom as Cilla Black topping the pop charts and the bill at The London Palladium.

Kara Lily Hayworth fully embodies the persona and spirit of the young Cilla through sassiness, song and performance. Her transformation from Cavern Club rocker to pop balladeer is pure magic, while her rendition of Anyone Who Had a Heart is a real hair standing on end moment. Hayworth achieves this time and again as the musical progresses bringing Cilla’s greatest hits including You’re My World, Alfie and Step Inside Love back into the live forum after so many decades.

Hayworth’s co-star, Carl Au gives a warm and endearing portrayal of Bobby Willis, Cilla’s road manager and boyfriend. There’s a wonderful glimpse into what might have been when young songwriter Bobby auditions for his own pop career with his composition Shy of Love and A Taste of Honey for Brian Epstein and music publisher Dick James.

The Cavern Club is one of many scenes recreated for Cilla The MusicalThe Cavern Club is one of many scenes recreated for Cilla The Musical

The Cavern Club is one of many scenes recreated for Cilla The Musical

Ultimately Bobby forsakes his musical career for Cilla’s, but not before the pair temporarily break up. This sequence set at the climax of a failed American trip sees the Hayworth and Au duet on You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, bringing a sense of extra poignancy to the song.

Andrew Lancel is perfectly cast as Cilla’s manager and Beatles Svengali Brian Epstein. A complicated and often misunderstood figure, Lancel appears to add a dimension to Epstein that many only ever witnessed through rare TV interviews. Lancel demonstrates both Epstein’s strength and vulnerability as his private life collides with his professional life. A stark reference to Epstein’s homosexuality and an era such actions are forbidden are emphasised in Lancel’s performance of The Beatles You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.

The incredible supporting cast of actor musicians are all too numerous to give individual namechecks, but special mention must go to Paul Broughton as Cilla’s Dad, John White who adds a lot of scouse humor to the proceedings and Michael Hawkins as John Lennon, who leads his fellow Beatles with authentic renditions of Twist and Shout and You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me.

Nostalgic, fun, dramatic and musically entertaining, you’ll be hard pushed to find a musical that encapsulates the 60s pop scene better than Cilla The Musical – don’t miss the chance to be entertained.

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