Cilla The Musical Review

I have a very clear memory from when I was around 4 years old. I used to have my own little table and chair set, and I was sat at it on a Saturday night. We'd had a Chinese takeaway and I was eating my favourite sweets, Polo Gummies. Blind Date was on the telly, and a Scouse lady with a big smile was hosting it.

Little did I know that the lady was Cilla Black, star of the sixties and Liverpool's leading lady. It was only after her passing, when ITV's Cilla hit our screens, that I realised she had even been a singer at all! The series was hugely popular and inspired Cilla The Musical, which I went along to watch at Winter Gardens Blackpool*.

kara lily hayworth wearing a floor length gold dress, singing in front of a giant illuminated CILLA sign
Photo: Matt Martin
The show charts Cilla's path to success, from performing at The Cavern all the way to reaching number 1 in the charts, and her diversion into television hosting. Kara Lily Hayworth took on the massive role, and performed it beautifully, able to bring us a typical teenager and a dazzling diva with ease. Despite going into the theatre knowing nothing about Cilla herself, I quickly learned that she was determined, witty, and could be as fiery as her trademark red hair.

I particularly liked that Hayworth did not emulate Cilla completely. She was not a tribute act, she brought her own incredible, unique voice to the character, and it was so different to other musicals I have seen and enjoyed. Rather than singing sweetly, Hayworth boomed out powerful notes and runs, bringing a real rock and roll sound to the show.

actors dressed like the beatles performing onstage
Photo: Matt Martin
Cilla The Musical is practically half theatre show, half gig, with so many songs of the era being performed. The Beatles were a huge feature, and the actors illustrating the band had obviously studied footage to perfectly mimic the facial expressions and mannerisms. Whether you are a fan of Cilla, grew up in the era, or just love the songs, I think you would really enjoy the show. Every performance had equal attention to detail and it truly did feel like stepping back in time and watching Paul McCartney and co pull the audiences at The Cavern.

Personally, I'm not mad for the era, and I was more interested in the love story that ran alongside the rises and falls of Cilla's success. The man who was there through it all was Bobby Willis, portrayed by Carl Au. I was so impressed by the way both he and Hayworth developed their characters and their relationship throughout the show. From a boy full of enthusiasm and stubborn determination, to a man visibly carrying the weight of the world, Au took us through every emotion. We almost watched through his eyes as he saw Cilla go from strength to strength, while their relationship weakened, and he commanded empathy from the audience.

kara lily hayworth as cilla black singing on the cavern stage with the beatles behind her and a crowd dancing in front
Photo: Matt Martin
I really appreciated the way that the focus was not solely on Cilla in the show, and the stage was shared by The Beatles and Bobby- both as her boyfriend, and as a singer in his own right. It was representative of how she felt that Brian Epstein, the manager, had been treating her, and yet it became clear that she was the leading lady of his life. I'm not sure I agree with the show bringing to light personal details of him, as it left me with the impression of a very sad and lonely man, rather than a powerful media manager. Nevertheless, Andrew Lancel illustrated both sides with skill, changing from a confident stride to closed body language and short, sharp movements and speech. The contrast worked very well to warm the audience to Epstein and when the businesslike illusion was shattered, we saw that he was much more than a manager, he deeply cared for Cilla and Bobby. 

While the show did not hold back from tender moments and twists of tragedy like the deaths of Bobby's father and Epstein, the creative team had also woven in witty one liners and comic characters, including Cilla's parents, played by Pauline Fleming and Neil MacDonald. A formidable father figure, MacDonald delivered deadpan lines with perfect timing to cut the tension and provide comic relief, ensuring that the show never felt flat.

The musical ended rather strangely, with Twist And Shout seeing the audience on their feet and dancing along with the cast, but followed by a slow melody. Hayworth seemed genuinely touched by the applause, and told us to listen to the lyrics as she used her beautiful voice one last time to tell us, as Cilla, that the audience were the motivation and the reward. Whilst it broke with tradition to end on such a number, it was lovely, and I'm sure a few tears were shed in the audience. 

*Winter Gardens Blackpool kindly provided my tickets in exchange for an honest review. You can learn more in my disclaimer.



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