Cilla – Review – Leeds Grand Theatre

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By Sandra Callard, October 2018

Loosely based on the television drama production of Cilla in 2014, the story of the rise to fame of singer, Cilla Black, ‘this’ Cilla is an ear-bashing musical story of an ordinary Liverpudlian girl’s phenomenal career in the Swinging Sixties. It is set in the glory days of the emerging Mersey Sound in Liverpool, the city that gave the world The Beatles, and gave England Cilla Black.

Cilla had a unique and instantly recognisable voice which is almost impossible for other singers to replicate. Kara Lily Hayworth is a beautiful singer in her own right, and sings the famous songs with panache and power, but never approaches the distinctive and overwhelmingly unique sound of the original. Neither does she convey the warmth and personality that made Cilla a household name, although the growing and lasting love between Cilla and Bobby Willis is nicely shown.

I liked the performance of Alexander Patmore as Bobby, as he fights to keep Cilla when her burgeoning career drives them apart. He shows understanding and a naked love for Cilla as their paths diverge, and is rewarded with a marriage that lasted a lifetime.

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“Tangle of emotions”

The man who discovered The Beatles and Cilla Black, Brian Epstein, is startlingly miscast by able and well-respected actor Andrew Lancel, a man who may not be a household name but whose face is easily recognisable through his vast repertoire of acting roles. Lancel’s voice is not naturally cultured, as was Epstein’s, and his painful attempt to effect such an accent is difficult to watch. Epstein’s diffident and kindly approach to his stars is caught by Lancel in a more realistic way, and his tangle of emotions as he tries to live his life in the days prior to homosexual freedom is sensitively portrayed.

Kenwright’s production is heavy on loud music and dancing, which often overpowers the singing voices of the cast and is only saved by the wonderful songs of the period; Cilla’s blistering first number one hit, ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’, ‘You’re My World’, ‘Step Inside Love’ and ‘Alfie’ to name but a few. The catalogue of songs is outstanding, and Hayworth’s singing of the early numbers performed in The Cavern Club, such as ‘Some Other Guy’ and ‘Zip-a-dee-Doo Dah’ is excellent.

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“Energy and talent”

The Beatles were contemporaries of Cilla and she performed many times with them at the Cavern. The Fab Four are realistically portrayed, and the famous characters of the Sixties appear constantly. Gerry Marsden, Danny La Rue, George Martin and Burt Bacharach stir the memories as they make their appearances throughout Cilla’s rise to fame.

Cilla is a melange of remembrance, sentimentality and fun for those of us who remember the Swinging Sixties, but the theatre audience was not short of younger people to whom the Sixties is long ago history. The show is a tribute to a talented and much loved performer and, whilst chaotic in parts, does impart the energy and talent of a city not yet risen from its war damage. The Mersey Sound brought Liverpool to life again, and the show, whilst not perfect, does show that energy encapsulated in a single ordinary, and yet extraordinary, person.


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