When Cilla Black died a couple of years ago she was widely referred to as a national treasure and few people over the age of sixty, who had been on the journey with her, would disagree. However, to a larger portion of the population she was a regular fixture on weekend prime time TV as both a game and chat show host, with almost as many catchphrases as Bruce, who loved parodying herself in later years, but who was the real Cilla?
To find out you have to go back to the dock areas of Liverpool in the early sixties where sweaty clubs were packed nightly as local bands, including The Big Three, Beatles, Searchers and Gerry And The Pacemakers, along with a handful of girl singers, perfected their craft hoping but never expecting to achieve their goal of making a record, yet alone a hit. Many of the bands made the big time, but only one girl really got there, and although she was far from the best vocalist she had something no one else had, apart from the red hair.
Based on Jeff Pope’s TV screenplay Cilla - the Musical captures the era perfectly with Kara Lily Hayworth ideally cast in the title role, recalling the amazing success Brian Epstein (Andrew Lancel) had promoting Liverpool artists. The story charts four years between 1963-67 which saw Cilla go from cloakroom girl at The Cavern to BBC TV’s headline act for Saturday entertainment.
The sounds of The Cavern favourite hits Some Other Guy, Roll Over Beethoven etc. are perfectly recreated live onstage with Cilla’s covers of Baby It’s You and Boys great, not so good the failed audition number Til There Was You, but she gets there and Act One closes with a true powerhouse version of Anyone Who Had A Heart.
Chart and TV successes aplenty follow You’re My World, Alfie’ and Don’t Answer Me all recorded with the rough edges polished, but her personality remains the raw diamond, and the combination of both make her the toast of the UK. But it’s not all about Cilla, Epstein finds controlling his demons harder, especially when John Lennon dedicates You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away to him.
This section of Cilla’s life closes with more hits; Step Inside Love and Something Tells Me Something’s Gonna Happen Tonight and Epstein's death opening the new chapter for Bobby Willis (Alexander Patmore)to take control. Liverpool Lullaby is the song only Cilla could sing, with the title song from her final album of new material Through The Years sending the audience home, happy.
Packed with songs from the era this production is so much more than another jukebox musical. Musically and sense of recreation perfect, solid talented casting throughout, Cilla was unique and a true one-off - a life Kara captures perfectly.
Possibly the best way to summarise would be to quote a couple of comparisons. When Cilla was given her chance she took it, Kara did the same, and to utilise another game show phrase you could almost imagine that at 7.30 Kara said to herself: ‘Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be Cilla Black’ …and she was!