Cilla the Musical (rating 5/5)
Following an acclaimed world premiere run in Liverpool, this musical whirlwind received a rousing reception at its opening night in Edinburgh.
It is an exuberant and epic celebration of not only all things Cilla, but the swinging sixties and the hugely influential Merseybeat sound that put scouse singers firmly on pop music’s world stage.
Written by BAFTA award winning Jeff Pope, who also wrote TV’s Cilla starring Sheridan Smith, the stage version has all of the original set pieces – but pushes the musical boundaries a little more with a greater emphasis on the other acts including international turns like the Mamas and the Papas.
At its core is the central triangle of Cilla, her boyfriend and future husband Bobby and the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein who signs Cilla as his only girl singer.
As Cilla’s son and former manager Robert Willis said recently: “There’s a difference to what you can achieve on stage and on TV.”
So, all of the players have to work harder and they manage to achieve near perfection without the luxuries of an editing suite, not least due to the central performances from Kara Lily Hayworth as Cilla, Carl Au as Bobby and Andrew Lancel as Epstein reprising his role in Epstein – The Man Who Made the Beatles.
The show opens with Kara taking centre stage, talking to sixties pop pundit Cathy McGowan about her climb to the top of the charts, and then goes into flashback mode in the raw energy of Liverpool’s famed Cavern Club with a rocking rendition of Some Other Guy.
The Big Three, Rory and the Hurricanes, Gerry and the Pacemakers and, of course, the Beatles are all showcased in a musical which is bursting with energy.
Bill Caple as a quiffed Ringo Starr makes a memorable stage debut, and Michael Hawkins is wonderful as John Lennon, capturing his acerbic wit. Alex Harford as George Harrison and Joshua Gannon playing Paul McCartney make up the mop tops and the audience love them.
The audience lap it up with some resonant versions of Twist and Shout, Roll Over Beethoven and a poignant rendition of You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away implying Epstein’s struggles.
But it is the on-off chemistry between Cilla and Bobby that keeps the show on track.
Classically trained Hayworth originally from Watford has not only captured the scouse accent but embodies the sparky spirit of Cilla and her journey from girl next door to diva.
Her version of Anyone Who Had a Heart is spine tingling and she doesn’t put a foot wrong throughout the show.
All-rounder Carl Au as Bobby brings an authenticity and poignancy to the part as he tries to win Cilla’s heart with his constant refrains of “What does Brian bloody Epstein know about music anyway?”
With all the ups and downs of their relationship and Cilla’s rise to fame, Pauline Fleming and Paul Broughton as our Cill’s parents, much like the TV version, provide the comic relief with laugh out loud moments.
The lighting and sets are spot on and the backdrop to Scotty Road evocative of a different era.
This show has smash hit written all over it and a stirring finale has Hayworth and the cast step out of character to thank Edinburgh and launch into a Merseyside medley.
Cilla: the Musical runs at Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday