Touring – reviewed at the New Theatre, Oxford
Guest reviewer: Donna Meredith
Having recently watching the TV mini-series, starring Sheridan Smith, that charted Cilla Black’s epic rise to fame, beginning with her early job as a typist and continuing through key moments, including her friendship with The Beatles, I was intrigued to see how this rags-to-riches story would translate to the stage.
Arriving for the opening night at the New Theatre, Oxford, I could not help but notice that most of the audience were of an age to have been fans of Cilla at the height of her musical career. My experience of this inimitable redhead was as a warm and natural TV presenter in the 80s and 90s of shows such as Blind Date and Surprise Surprise.
I need not have worried about being unfamiliar with Cilla’s music, as from the opening number I was hooked on what I can only describe as a real soundtrack to the sixties. Music from The Beatles, The Mamas and the Papas and Gerry and the Pacemakers took us back to a time when music was changing the consciousness of young people. I found myself completely immersed in this spectacular showcase.
Kara Lily Hayworth delivered a truly standout performance, particularly with her rendition of ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’, which closed Act I in spectacular style, almost moving me to tears. Hayworth was discovered at an open audition where she queued for four hours to be seen and I for one am glad she did!
The show is built not just around the songs, but also the personal life of Cilla, portraying her fiercely ambitious streak and her relationship with the man who became her husband and managed her career, Bobby Willis – played superbly by Carl Au. We get an insight into an enduring love story between Cilla and her Bobby which truly warms the heart.
The religious divide of the time between protestant and Catholic faiths is dealt with sensitively whilst not shying away from the prejudices that were clearly apparent not least in Bobby’s estrangement from his father due to his inability to accept his relationship with Cilla.
Bobby’s struggle to come to terms with his own musical ambitions and his decision to eventually put his own aspirations on hold to support Cilla’s career are perhaps the truest insight into this story of ultimate true love.
Another notable performance is that of Andrew Lancel who plays the complex character of Brian Epstein. He sensitively portrays the underlying sadness of the character who whilst achieving unparalleled success battled demons that eventually consumed him.
A mention must also go to the stage sets and lighting which perfectly evoke the club scenes of the time, the recording studios and the Merseyside backdrop of this timeless tale.
This story of the girl next door who did good, against the backdrop of music that truly stands the test of time, will warm your heart, make you smile, and ultimately leave you sad that we have lost a real “one off” in Cilla. Just two years since her passing I was left feeling that she would be proud of this epic celebration of her life.
Ta-ra Chuck !