Cilla The Musical – Review – York Grand Opera House
Cilla The Musical – Review
York Grand Opera House, January 2018
by Roger Crow
We all have our memories of Cilla Black, whether you were there at the start when she broke into the charts, or when she was the queen of ITV with shows such as Blind Date or Surprise Surprise.
My memory is of a Friday night around a decade ago when I was lucky enough to have a chat with her. I can’t remember what she was plugging, but I do remember it being a highlight of that year. She was as amiable and chatty as I’d hoped, having spent 40-odd years hearing that voice or seeing her familiar face on TV.
When Sheridan Smith took on the role in Jeff Pope’s outstanding ITV biopic in September 2014, I loved every episode. The beautifully crafted scene in which she records ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’, with George Martin at Abbey Road, is one of my favourite nuggets of TV gold. Little wonder I played it a lot in the weeks that followed as Sheridan belted out the track like her life depended on it.
We thought the real Cilla would be around forever, but then the horrible news arrived that she’d passed away far too young in August 2015, and it didn’t seem real. Fast forward to January 2018, and those memories come flooding back as a musical based on her life and inspired by the TV series is packing them out at York’s Grand Opera House.
As the drama unfolds, charting Priscilla White’s early years at The Cavern Club, her friendship with The Beatles, romance with Bobby Willis, and working relationship with troubled manager Brian Epstein, I’m loving every minute.
The sets are simple and hugely effective, transforming in seconds from Liverpool’s most famous music venue to Cilla’s home, Abbey Road and The Ed Sullivan Show set. The whole thing is so finely tuned it’s a joy to behold.
Okay, it does tick certain predictable boxes. The rags-to-riches story. Check. The romance. Check. The love tryst, of sorts. Check. The personal sacrifice. Check. The tragedy. Check. But that’s true of most crowd-pleasers.
Some jukebox musicals are a string of loosely connected songs looking for a story. However, because Jeff Pope is the king of biopics, as the outstanding Mrs Biggs and Philomena proved, adapting his work for the stage and adding much loved songs was a case of building a project on rock solid foundations rather than stitching songs together and hoping the show floats.
Just before half time, and that scene when Cilla records ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ leaves me slack of jaw. The eponymous heroine and Bobby awaiting that fate-changing phone call is pure gold. With any beloved stage adaptation there’s always a key to a show working and with Cilla, that’s mine.
Then comes the thorny issue of “Has it done a Wicked and peaked too early?” Thankfully not. The second half is as engaging as the first, bursting with more beloved tunes. The Mamas and the Papas’ ‘California Dreaming’ on The Ed Sullivan Show leaves me with a Cheshire Cat grin, while the mix of tragedy, comedy and stunning songs works like a charm. And it’s a treat to see the Danny La Rue appearance. Another happy memory of a much missed entertainer many of us grew up with.
“Burst of colour”
If there’s a niggle it’s the show is 10 minutes too long, but you certainly get value for money. Like Sheridan, Kara Lily Hayworth is a magnificent Cilla. There are times when it sounds like the star herself is on stage, and boy can she carry a tune. Like another flame-haired namesake performer, this Ms Hayworth is as mesmerising on stage as that iconic nightclub scene in Gilda.
Carl Au’s Bobby, Andrew (Corrie) Lancel’s Brian Epstein and the rest of the cast are also superb. There’s not a weak link in the chain. Co-Director Bill Kenwright’s fingerprints are all over the production, and he’s gathered such a fine team of performers and production crew, the whole thing shines like a diamond.
It’s one of the most enjoyable shows of the past 12 months, and I wouldn’t have much trouble sitting through the whole thing again. On a very dull winter’s evening, it’s just the burst of colour and warmth you need to lift your spirits.
I’d recommend it to anyone who had a heart.