Review – Cilla at Royal & Derngate

This week I feel like I have stepped back into a music time warp and arrived firmly at the 1960’s. I followed up watching ‘Beautiful’ with a trip to Royal & Derngate to see the brand new musical ‘Cilla’.


It’s a story about the rise to fame of one of Britain’s biggest stars, its certain on watching the show on Wednesday night that we lost a true national treasure when Cilla Black passed away in 2015.


The show opens with a young Cilla reeling off her hopes and dreams up in her bedroom at home, she dreams big and the show takes on the journey that made her just that.


Cilla is played by Kara Lily Hayworth, who battled her way to the title role in open auditions across the country that saw over 2000 hopefuls turnout. While Hayworth has a CV that dates back to age eleven, this really is her big break. Inevitably the music that made CIlla a star is going to do just the same for Hayworth and on this performance she truly merits it.


This was the second time I have seen this show having seen it early in the tour in September, although little has changed to the staging, which I did find a little surprising. Act one switches between the home of Cilla and the Liverpool’s historic Cavern Club as we hear the sounds of the Beatles, Gerry and The Pacemakers and the Big Three – all treading the same path to success as Cilla. For me act one feels a little sluggish with a struggle to truly recreate the Cavern atmosphere inside the theatre – although a more responsive audience would have helped. Neil Macdonald injects some much-needed humour in act one as he takes on the protective father role anywhere where Cilla is concerned. The highlight of act one though is undoubtedly the vocal from Hayworth as she sings the hit that gave Cilla her first number one – “Anyone Who Had a Heart”. Hayworth was note perfect and deserved the rapturous applause.


Act two feels slicker and the story moves apace. Try not to search for your tissues when Cilla and Bobbie temporarily part ways with an emotional rendition of “You’ve lost that loving feeling”.   Sick of always being in the background and with Cilla unrelentingly stubborn, he decides enough is enough. With music career of his own in his cusp, Hayworth delivers a sucker punch to it, firmly putting him in his place with the line “I sing the music, you look after me”.   Carl Au, a simply awesome casting, plays Bobbie and he has certainly added depth to the role since my first viewing. Au expertly delivers every moment in act two with a sublime and emotion packed performance. Meanwhile the story Brian Epstein (Andrew Lancel) also grows through the show. Lancel plays a desperate character of the manager who longing and searching for his own happiness but always living a lie.   Lancel delivers his rendition of “You’ve got to hide your love away” and surely touched every heart in the auditorium.


There are big hopes that this brand new musical will grow legs and take up residency in the West End following its current tour and I have little doubt of that happening. Act one definitely needs some work to truly capture the Cavern Club spirit and move things along, but please – leave act two untouched.   It is packed with emotion, determination, dreams and ultimately love and it’s the winning ingredients for a hugely impressive piece. I challenge ‘Anyone who had a heart’ not to fall head over heels for Cilla.

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