‘Something tells me something’s gonna happen tonight’, sings Cilla at the show’s finale, and at the Hippodrome, after a lighting fault and show-halt as two in the audience were taken ill, it’s a line that suddenly felt very close to home. Once resumed, the songs and spirit of Cilla save the evening, but oversimplify the story of a star that deserves so much more.
Based on the TV series, Cilla is a celebration of Cilla Black. Set in, and with a soundtrack from, the sixties, it follows the teenage Priscilla White’s transformation into the chart-topping Cilla Black with a touching tribute to her talent and charm. Kara Lily Hayworth is warm and witty as the Liverpudlian lovely, and her performances of the Cilla classics ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’, ‘Alfie’, and ‘Something Tells Me’ are perfectly poised between powerful performance and heartfelt homage.
Though it works for Cilla, elsewhere the impressive musical performances feel more like tribute acts and cameos than fully-formed characters in a well-plotted chronicle. With actor-musicians performing on a moving platform as part of Gary McCann’s simple but effective set – which, with brightly-coloured lights, chimneys and a couch transforms effortlessly from the infamous Liverpool Cavern Club to Abbey Road to the BBC – the action seems to intersperse the songs, rather than the songs complimenting the action. As such, though boldly sung and ably embodied by Bill Caple, Joshua Gannon, Michael Hawkins, and Alex Harford, The Beatles are just jukebox boys, although, Gannon’s McCartney playing his guitar left-handed is a great little homage to the man himself.
The script, while accomplished on screen, seems to criminally underuse its actors onstage. Carl Au’s Bobby – whose assured singing voice is shied away like his love – is a brilliant semblance of someone in the shadows, his relationship with Cilla loving and loyal and blossoming slowly, but isn’t allowed to really shine in his own right. As the troubled talent executive and Beatles boss Brian Epstein, Andrew Lancel laces his turn with sensitivity, but the first act fails to develop him and allow his death in the second act to really land with the sorrow it deserves. The most memorable performances are from the families of the famous, with Tom Christian’s Kenny a wisecracking, piss-taking brother to Bobby, and Neil MacDonald and Pauline Fleming wonderful as Mr and Mrs White, Cilla’s proud and protective parents.
There’s a lorra lorra love in this celebration of Cilla Black’s life and loves, a lot of lovingly sung songs, and a little bit of laughter, but the balance between tribute and bold entertainment isn’t in equilibrium: something tells me there’s something more here for Cilla.
Written by @LeahTozer