Review: 'Cilla: The Musical'

Lewis Baird

  • OnStage United Kingdom Critic

Everyone loves a bit of the 1960s right? But have we really had that perfect 1960s musical, which reflects the time accurately? Maybe not, that is until now.

Cilla the musical is based on the story of the late British singer and TV personality, Cilla Black. If you are from outside the UK, then it is most likely that you will not be familiar with her work. I would highly recommend researching her and familiarizing yourself with her as she truly was a remarkable woman with such talent.

This musical follows her struggles of starting out and getting the attention of The Beatles manager, Brian Epstein. It also follows the relationship of Cilla and her “manager"/future husband, Bobby.

The story is truly interesting and really is something which really deserves to be adapted to stage and highlighted. Not only does it focus on her remarkable life but it also includes the iconic Liverpudlian band, The Beatles. May I say that this is the best musical adaption of the band I have ever seen. Their hits are perfectly performed on stage by Michael Hawkins (John Lennon), Bill Caple (Ringo Starr), Joshua Gannon (Paul McCartney) and Alex Harford (George Harrison).

However, the main star here is Kara Lily Kayworth as Cilla. One of the first things you notice when she starts her portrayal at the start of act one is that she has nailed the quirkiness that Cilla had. She also managed to project Cilla’s iconic Scouse accent, which she perfectly placed into her characterisation. It definitely wasn't just an impression, she definitely added colour and humour into the part which made Cilla more dimensional than someone just impersonating her. There was an issue with clarity at the start of act one but she rectified this quickly and got on track.  The real breath-taking strength that Kara Lily definitely holds is her singing voice. She is an incredible singer and really did blow the audience away with each number. There is definitely real promise with this young woman.

Carl Au is an actor which I have always seen as someone who has such talent. However, he really does excel as Cilla’s manager/love interest, Bobby. He creates not just a character on stage but someone the audience loves, sympathises with and respects him for all he does to win over Cilla. Carl's singing voice is also very powerful, perhaps in one scene it dipped a bit, but this man’s voice is so soothing and projects perfectly a 60s styled artist.

Andrew Lancel plays The Beatles manager, Brian Epstein. At points his devilish charm is excellent and he played on the dark subtext of the secret life that this man used to live. The only thing I would say is that at points perhaps his emotion was too strong, especially the scene where Cilla is contemplating new management. Nonetheless, I found his portrayal just as good or better than the way Epstein was portrayed in the ITV bio-series in which this musical is adapted from.

Jeff Pope has written Cilla's story delightfully for stage, the connection to the ITV drama he also wrote, is definitely prominent. It doesn't feel like a rough cut, it feels like he has considered the plot so carefully and exquisitely has adapted this to stage.

Gary McCann's brickwork, arched stage design with Nick Richings colourful, entrancing lighting, work stunningly hand and hand. It makes the musical feel rich and daring. Especially when a huge lighting rig spelling out Cilla comes down for the finale.

Scott Adler’s reworking of Cilla, The Beatles and some other of the 1960s top artists work is glorious. Some of the stand out numbers are Twist and Shout, Love of loved, Anyone who had a heart, California Dreaming, Dancing in the street, Liverpool Lullaby and definitely the one that stood out for me was Cilla walking on stage singing Step inside love. This scene was her filming her first episode of her television show at the BBC. It was emotional seeing Kara Lily project the late entertainer so perfectly, in her element and realising that the woman who gave us “a lorra, lorra laughs” is gone and no longer able to bless out screens.

Bill Kenwright’s direction seems like he has treated this piece as not a musical production but a mirror of Cilla Black's life, but, he has amplified the colour and music. This production is such a high quality due to his direction and vision.

There needs to be more advertisement and teasers of this musical as the success of this cast and creative’s work is not spreading quick enough.

This musical is an original triumph which could be the best new UK production of 2017. America has Jersey Boys, the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, but us Brits? We have the story of our Cilla and how her legacy was created. Brilliant musical with some brilliant hits, bright colourful design with strong characterisation and intelligent creative planning, 5/5 stars for Cilla The Musical.

Want to see Cilla the musical?

Click the below link.