BWW Review: CILLA - THE MUSICAL, Edinburgh Playhouse
Three years after Jeff Pope's acclaimed television miniseries Cilla was broadcast on ITV, he has now adapted her story for a new touring musical.
Premiering, fittingly, in Liverpool earlier this month, Cilla - The Musical offers a biographical journey through the early days of Cilla Black's career. The fact that this journey only goes up to the launch of her weekly BBC television variety series in 1968 - when Black was still just 24 years old - highlights how quickly she became a household name. And as with the miniseries, this is no rose-tinted portrayal.
Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson's production takes around an hour to fully hit its stride. It does tell the story well of Black's experience in the early 1960s of performing in Merseyside clubs, being introduced to manager Brian Epstein by her friend John Lennon, then becoming Epstein's only female client and signing to Parlophone.
At times, though, this first section feels like another jukebox musical, opening with a rendition of "Some Other Guy", the hit song by Merseyside band The Big Three, followed by several Beatles' successes such as "Twist and Shout" and "Roll Over Beethoven".
Then, five minutes from the end of the first half, the magic begins. It's 1964, the doors to Abbey Road Studios open, and the audience sees Cilla Black recording her first number one hit single, "Anyone Who Had a Heart". It's not an entirely unexpected end to the first half, but high-quality vocals combined with a dramatic change in lighting and sound makes for a very memorable moment.
Fortunately, the 85-minute second half maintains this brilliance. The hits follow one after one, including "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" and another number one hit single, "You're My World". Now, though, the narrative is also compelling, as the trio of Black, Epstein and constant companion Bobby Willis (who would later become Black's husband) embark on trying to promote Black's career in the U.S., and Epstein's subsequent death at the age of 32.
Kara Lily Hayworth takes on the title role of Black, following on from Sheridan Smith in the miniseries. Hayworth does well, striking a good balance between impersonating Black and bringing her own personality and excellent vocal range to the role.
Andrew Lancel runs the gamut of emotions as Epstein, winning the audience's sympathy for the character in the second half particularly, and a special mention is due to Paul Broughton, as Cilla's father John White. At times, White's dialogue is reminiscent of that of Billy Elliot's father, not least in the scene where White expresses his outrage about the 'colour change' proposal of his daughter's surname in order to enhance her recording career, but Broughton brings good humour to the role.
Top of the list, however, has to be Carl Au's portrayal of Bobby Willis. Winner of the inaugural Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year Award in 2007, Au is rarely off-stage as Willis, being Black's ever-present confidante and supporting her through the good times as well as the bad.
There are moments in the second half where audience sympathies lie more with Willis than with Black, and Au gets the balance just right as he progresses through the story as cocky promoter, then supporter and best friend, then lover.
Overall, Cilla - The Musical hits the mark and is highly recommended. The combination of factual and at times turbulent story, excellent performances and a plethora of hit songs make the production deserving of a West End run in the future.
Picture credit: Matt Martin