that she’s such a much-loved public entertainer, an all-too-obvious challenge
in creating a musical based on the early life of the late Cilla Black—born
Priscilla Maria Veronica White—is that, while she certainly had some big hit
singles—“Anyone Who Had a Heart”, “You’re My World”, and “Alfie”, to name just
three—her back catalogue of
The star of the show, of course, is Kara Lily Hayworth
Writer Jeff Pope, with directors Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson, turn this to their advantage, widening the selection of songs performed on stage to give a fuller sense of the world—specifically early 1960s’ Liverpool; even more specifically the Cavern Club—out of which she was plucked by Brian Epstein. The first half of the show may all-too-predictably focus on the numerous ups and downs on her journey from office typing pool to centre-stage, but it does so efficiently and with a real feel of the nascent Mersey Beat that The Beatles would bring to the world.
Yet there is also time to show us Cilla’s slow-but-growing relationship with Bobby Willis, who she would eventually marry and—following the death of Epstein—appoint as her manager. It’s all done with humour and a generally light touch, while not ignoring the background of religious bigotry between Liverpool’s Protestant and Catholic communities. While Bobby may well, on paper, feel somewhat two-dimensional, Carl Au breathes real passion into the man who, during the course of the second half, is willing to give up much in order to support the life and ambitions of the woman he loves.
Andrew Lancel has “previous”, having played the titular Epstein—the Man Who Made The Beatles. Here, he’s not given an excessive amount to do; while clearly portrayed as the “other” important man in Cilla’s life, he’s resolutely in her shadow, with the show’s sometimes excessive use of spotlights resolutely focused on her. That said, Lancel at least gets far more stage time than any of the actors playing The Beatles, who at one point even play as Cilla’s backing band. Paul Broughton and Pauline Fleming, meantime, bring spot-on comic timing to the otherwise one-note roles of Cilla’s parents.
The star of the show, of course, is Kara Lily Hayworth; discovered through an open audition, she has her own story of rising success and fame, and certainly gives us Cilla’s confidence, openness and strong vocals—if not always her occasional gentler moments. In one sense, that’s fine; early on Bobby praises Cilla singing “rock ’n’ roll like a bloke”. But it sometimes forgets that nigh on all of Cilla’s half-dozen hits were ballads.