This trip back to Liverpool in the 60s is great fun and packed with nostalgia.
Jukebox musicals about the careers of 1960s singers and bands have become increasingly popular in recent years. Cilla, based on the life of the late Cilla Black, is one of the most recent to grace the stage. Beginning at the end of 1962, Black (Kara Lily Hayworth) herself is revealed in a spotlight. It’s not only her music we relive though. Growing up in Liverpool, Black famously got her start through the Beatles. Rather than a show which solely focused on Black herself, Cilla is a celebration of the 60s pop and the music scene in Liverpool.
As is expected of the jukebox style, and indeed of any musical, the music drives the performance, and Cilla is no exception to this rule. Hayworth has a stunning singing voice, and delivers an incredibly powerful performance as Black. Standing in the spotlight, she shines like a true star, much like Cilla herself. However, the real scene-stealers are the Beatles, played by Bill Caple, Joshua Gannon, Michael Hawkins and Alex Harford. Whenever they are present, your eyes are immediately drawn to them; their sound, their look and even their iconic ‘head bobbles’ make you believe you could be seeing the real deal up on stage. The music in this production truly transports you right back into the 60s. Even better, the soundtrack is played primarily by a selection of the actors. Seeing instruments played live on stage in a show focused on singers and bands is particularly satisfying to see, as it makes the performance feel all the more genuine.
The book, written by Jeff Pope, and the acting are almost on par with the music and vocals. Andrew Lancel and Carl Au (playing Black’s manager, Brian Epstein, and eventual husband, Bobby Willis, respectively) give especially truthful performances, tugging the audience’s heart strings when life doesn’t quite go their way. Epstein really becomes a character of tragedy during the second act, in the events leading up to the manager’s overdose in 1967: a heart-breaking moment within the show. Lancel’s portrayal is spectacular, taking Epstein’s unexpectedly complex character arc and filling the audience with pity as they watch this ultimately broken man.
There is something wonderfully authentic about Cilla. The simplistic brick wall set, combined with the Scouse accents, evokes a home-grown atmosphere: something which could make you proud to feel British. Additionally, it is great fun to look back at such a brilliant decade for British culture – the clothes, the music, the Beatles, Abbey Road Studios. These elements are thrown at us in a fairly brash manner, with the music being belted out as though you are in a rock concert rather than a theatre. At times, the combination of the loud music and bright stage lights can feel a little overwhelming. Yet the main question to consider with this musical, where the vast majority of the audience know of the real-life events being dramatised, is does it hold the audience’s interest? I think this can be answered by the entire audience up on its feet dancing along to the joyful finale performed by the whole case, every single person having a brilliant night out. Whether you are a fan of Black herself, the Beatles, or just the 60s in general, Cilla is well worth a watch.
Cilla plays at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until Saturday 7 October.