Reviewed by Siobhan Bridgwater
Cilla – The Musical, at the Bristol’s Hippodrome theatre, takes us back to the early years of the much-loved Liverpudlian lass, Priscilla White, better known to us all as Our Cilla. The production is directed by Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson and has Cilla and Bobby’s son, Robert Willis, as the Executive Producer. It is a tender record of a lively, unassuming girl with bright red hair and a beguiling voice, who becomes a No 1 chart-topper in the mid-sixties. She subsequently goes on to become one of the nation’s most loved sweethearts in a career which spanned over five decades.
The show starts in the teenager’s bedroom, with her hope-filled fantasies of becoming a star. We see this down-to-earth girl take her first tentative steps, into the limelight, at the legendary Cavern. Encouraged by her friends to sing with fellow local musicians on regular nights out, she starts to grow in confidence. Luckily for her, these friends included Ringo Starr (Bill Caple), John Lennon (Michael Hawkins) and Paul McCartney (Joshua Gannon) and it was John Lennon who first introduced Cilla to the star maker, Brian Epstein, who catapults Cilla into the big arena.
Intertwined with the musical history is the endearing love story between Cilla and childhood sweetheart, Bobby Willis. Carl Au is charming in his portrayal of a besotted Bobby. Bewitched by this talented girl after meeting her in the clubs, he convinces Cilla to take him on as her manager and travels with her during the Epstein years. After foregoing his own aspirations and opportunities as a singer/songwriter to focus on Cilla, his devotion eventually pays off and he subsequently becomes her devoted husband and life-long manager.
It is a show packed full of well-known numbers from the era and these infamous Liverpudlian stars. Kara Lily Hayworth puts in a convincing performance as young Cilla, cleverly capturing many of her personality traits, idiosyncrasies and characteristics. Her voice is simply stunning. Andrew Lancel is also brilliant as British entrepreneur, Epstein and Pauline Fleming and Neil MacDonald add wonderful comedic value as Cilla’s proud parents.
Expect to hear all of her chart successes including “Anyone who had a Heart”, “You’re my World” and “Alfie” as well as a catalogue of songs from The Beatles, Gerry & The Pacemakers, the Mamas and Papas and, the lesser known, Big Three.
The set designs are just perfect, recreating exciting times, as we are moved seamlessly between Cilla’s humble family home and along the street to the public phone box where she receives news of her growing success. And even more evocative are the set changes used to take us through the various music venues, and into the Abbey Road Recording Studios. In the second Act we are treated to glimpses of The Ed Sullivan Show set, the sumptuous London Palladium stage and British studios for the start of Cilla’s TV career.
The theatre seemed to be packed with a very attentive and appreciative crowd of die-hard Cilla fans who lapped up everything on offer in last night’s performance.
Overall, I did enjoy an entertaining and pleasant evening, particularly the scenes with Alan Howell, as Burt Bacharach. It was interesting to learn about the providence of John Lennon’s “Hide your Love Away” as Epstein would not allow his stars to publicly discuss their relationships with reporters, even though Lennon was married with a small child at the time. As well as the music, the show attempted to tackle some of the trickier topics of the time including strongly-held religious views which divided families and the difficulties of living openly as a gay man. The show jokes about the open secret of Brian’s sexual orientation and his attractions to ‘naughty boys’ when homosexuality was illegal in the UK. It even gives a passing nod to some of the more flamboyant characters who were emerging on the scene.
Truthfully, I was never a great lover of Cilla’s singing voice. Whilst the show was very well played out by the entire cast, for me it lacked vibrancy and impact, considering its Mersey Beat backdrop. And it seemed long, particularly as the theatre auditorium became uncomfortably warm into the final hour. There were some technical difficulties, with the stage lighting in the second half, and a constantly flickering FIRE EXIT sign in the Upper Circle. That sign was an annoying distraction throughout the evening, always in the corner of my eye, and definitely affected my enjoyment of the experience.
It was not the toe-tapping, jump-out-of-your-seat tale, I was hoping for.
Tickets cost from £17.90 to £65.90 (plus £2.85 transaction fee).
Cilla – The Musical is at the Bristol Hippodrome from 13-17 March 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/bristol or call the box office on 0844 871 3012.
Bristol Hippodrome, St Augustine’s Parade, Bristol, BS1 4UZ | 0844 871 3012