CILLA THE MUSICAL – Touring ★★★★

In Musicals, Regional theatre, Reviews, Scotland, Touring by Thom DibdinLeave a Comment

Touring – reviewed at Edinburgh Playhouse
Guest reviewer: Martin Gray

Step inside, love, and see the triumphs and tragedies on the way to Cilla Black becoming an entertainment legend.

It’s a story you probably know, at least in broad strokes. Singing typist Priscilla White was a familiar face at the Cavern Club, where her friendship with the Beatles helped her win a contract with their manager, Brian Epstein. From the Cavern she went on to conquer the British charts, the devoted ‘Our Bobby’ at her side, while her working-class warmth helped cement her in the hearts of the public.

All of which is true. What’s less familiar are the details. The musical talents of husband Bobby Willis, for example, were never mentioned in all those magazine profiles of Cilla in the Seventies and Eighties. Likewise, just how close she and Bobby were to the tragic drama of Epstein’s demise. Such details are to the fore in this classy jukebox musical by Jeff Pope based on his 2014 TV mini-series.

We meet Cilla in the early Sixties when she’s hanging around the Cavern, dreaming of stardom. She has a voice, but her shyness makes her reluctant to have a crack at singing with the bands who play there. Finally finding the courage to step up – with an unasked for assist from new admirer Bobby – Cilla is on the road to stardom.

There are bumps along the way, the biggest of which is letting her ambition get in the way of her relationship. This is more Bobby’s story than Cilla’s, he’s the emotional heart of the piece, the eye through which we see ‘the people’s diva’. So when she does, occasionally, prove to be a diva, it hurts.

In those central roles of Cilla and Bobby, Kara Lily Hayworth and Carl Au have a chemistry that electrifies in Bill Kenwright’s production. They’re a believable couple, well-matched. Hayworth delivers such classics as Anyone Who Had a Heart, Alfie and Liverpool Lullaby with conviction, embodying the Liverpool songstress who died in 2015. Just once, during You’re My World, does Hayworth overdo it, giving it a little too much volume, but overall she’s vocally brilliant – and her accent is terrific.

Au’s Bobby, a man perhaps a little too much in love, is compelling. His mix of cockiness and gaucheness is massively likeable and his singing voice is lovely, especially on A Taste of Honey – mellifluous indeed.

Andrew Lancel has played Epstein previously on stage and that experience pays off in his tender portrayal of a good but tormented man. It’s hard not to laugh at the characters’ attitude towards his excuses for the bruises his awful choice in boyfriends left him with, but you’re not laughing at him.

suitably solid

The show also benefits from regular cameos by the Beatles – Joshua Gannon, Michael Hawkins, Alex Harford and Bill Caple look the part in their moptops, and sound superb. As Bobby’s stoic brother Kenny, Tom Christian is suitably solid, Paul Broughton and Pauline Fleming make a great double act as Cilla’s parents, and Tom Sowinski’s George Martin is an adorably posh puppy of a chap.

The ensemble is uniformly strong, while the band under musical director Scott Alder are a huge asset to the show, playing like angels while dressed in some really fab gear. The set’s great, too – a series of adaptable arches transforming into everything from the Cavern Club to the Ed Sullivan Show studio.

A nostalgia fest with a classic love story at its heart, Cilla: The Musical earned the standing ovation given it by the first night audience. Anyone who has a heart will love it.

Running time: two hours and 50 minutes (including one interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA.
Tuesday 19 – Saturday 23 September 2017.
Evenings: 7.30pm, Matinees Weds, Thurs, Sat: 2.30pm
Tickets and booking details: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/cilla/edinburgh-playhouse/

Tour Website: https://www.cillathemusical.com/
Cilla The Musical on Twitter: @CillaMusical

Cilla The Musical on tour:

19 – 23 Sept
Edinburgh
Playhouse
0844 871 3014
Book online

26 – 30 Sept
Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes Theatre
08448 717652
Book online

3 – 7 Oct
Southampton
The Mayflower Theatre
02380 711811
Book online

10 – 14 Oct
Birmingham
The New Alexandra Theatre
0844 871 3011
Book online

17 – 21 Oct
Blackpool
Grand Theatre
01253 290 190
Book online

31 October – 4 Nov
Cardiff
New Theatre
029 2087 8889
Book online

7 – 11 Nov
Wimbledon
New Wimbledon Theatre
0844 871 7646
Book online

14 – 18 Nov
Stoke-on-Trent
Regent Theatre
0844 871 7649
Book online

21 – 25 Nov
Manchester
Palace Theatre
0844 871 3019
Book online

28 November – 2 Dec
Bradford
Alhambra
01274 432 000
Book online

Tour continues in 2018:

16 – 20 Jan
Dartford
Orchard Theatre
01322 220000
Book online

23 – 27 Jan
York
The Grand Opera House
08448 472 322
Book online

30 Jan – 3 Feb
Glasgow
King’s Theatre
0844 871 7648
Book online

6 – 10 Feb
Dublin
Bord Gais Energy Theatre
0818 719 377
Book online

13 – 17 Feb
Oxford
New Theatre
0844 871 3020
Book online

20 – 24 Feb
Northampton
Royal & Derngate
01604 624 811
Book online

27 Feb – 3 Mar
Newcastle
Theatre Royal
08448 11 21 21
Book online

5 – 10 Mar
Chester
Storyhouse
0845 241 7868 |
Book online

13 – 17 Mar
Bristol
Hippodrome
0844 871 3012
Book online

20 – 24 Mar
Woking
New Victoria
0844 871 7645
Book online

3 – 7 April
Nottingham
Theatre Royal
0115 989 5555
Book online

Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. In addition to his personal account, he tweets @AllEdinTheatre.
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Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. In addition to his personal account, he tweets @AllEdinTheatre.