August this year marks 3 years since the passing of Cilla Black – national treasure, sixties singing sensation and television darling. Born Priscilla White, the Liverpudlian star’s rise to fame is celebrated in this musical directed by Bill Kenwright.
I’ve had the pleasure, and sometimes misfortune, to witness a lot of “jukebox musicals” over the past decade. They’re a popular crowd pleaser often drawing in audiences who wouldn’t normally visit the theatre, but who have come along because they like the familiar songs. And for me, Cilla – The Musical sits somewhere the middle ground. There was a lot to enjoy – entertaining and well-chosen songs, the singing was faultless, the costumes were accurate rather than a pastiche, what dancing there was was choreographed well and there were some strong acting performances, but somehow I found it all a little bit lacking.
Cilla – The Musical takes us on a journey from Cilla being coerced into singing with The Big Three by pals Pauline (a very funny Gemma Brodrick-Bower) and Pat (Billie Hardy), to the height of her musical fame, working with Burt Bacharach (another fabulously funny performance from Alan Howell) and trying to make it in the USA. Jukebox musicals usually struggle with a lack of plot to tenuously shoehorn in between the classic tracks, but here it seemed to be more a case of interrupting the rich and heartwarming true story with another sixties classic to add to the soundtrack.
Kara Lily Hayworth as Cilla is simply stunning though – with a powerful voice and confident stage presence, not to mention the fact that she’d perfected Cilla’s mannerisms and accent. Belting out “Anyone Who Had a Heart” and “You’re My World” with passion and immense talent, she left me with real goosebumps, and is absolutely deserving of the amazing reviews and critical acclaim she’s garnered so far. Carl Au takes on the role of Bobby Willis, Cilla’s doting partner, with a genuine sweetness that had the audience on his side right from his failed flirting attempts in Liverpool’s famous Cavern at the top of the show. Another stand-out performance came from Andrew Lancel as Cilla’s, and The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, handling the heartbreaking story of his violent personal life and depression with incredible skill.
While, on the whole, the cast were excellent, I found myself struggling with the technical elements of the show. Mics weren’t turned up, lighting cues appeared to be missed, props were visible in the wings ready for the next scene, and the sound volume when the band were playing meant that a lot of the lyrics were lost entirely. And that’s not to mention being nearly blinded by the enormous Cilla sign towards the end. Everything felt a little unbalanced. That said, the on-stage band were a great touch; their moving stage added a nice depth to the production, and brought the earlier scenes in the bars of Liverpool to life. Likewise, the brick arches and moving scenery allowed us to travel from recording studios back to a front room in a terraced house, and to the Palladium with ease.
Perhaps, as a 30-something year old (and one of the youngest in the audience at the Derngate), I’m not the real target demographic here? I’m sure, for those in the audience who had come to relive the 60s, Cilla was a nice walk down memory lane, but for me, I needed fewer songs and a bit more storytelling to find this a truly enjoyable show.
Performance: Tues 20 February 2018, Derngate, Northampton
Becki is a theatre lover originally from Birmingham. She founded On Stage Northants in 2017, and is passionate about promoting Northampton performing arts. Can usually be found behind the scenes, and occasionally in front of them too.