CREAGH CARR REVIEW: Cilla, MK Theatre

Kara Lily Hayworth is Cilla
Kara Lily Hayworth is Cilla

The Creagh/Carr Review gives you two bites of the cherry – the opinions of seasoned hackette Bev Creagh and flamboyant young newshound Stewart Carr. Here they talk about Cilla The Musical, at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday, September 30.

CREAGH SAYS... She was the original girl next door, the Liver bird who became an international star after a rocky start, who counted the Beatles as friends and colleagues and whose on/off affair with baker’s boy Bobby Willis had a happy ending - even though he sacrificed his own promising singing career to become her manager and husband.

Cilla The Musical is the heartwarming adaptation of the critically acclaimed television series which starred Sheridan Smith.

It’s full of the powerful ballads and Sixties classics that were the sound track of my youth – as well as most of the Baby Boomer audience, which included director Bill Kenwright, sitting incognito in the stalls.

Kara Lily Hayworth is absolutely stunning in the title role and even looks a little like the gutsy girl who lived over a hairdressing salon in Liverpool with her parents – brilliant cameos from Pauline Fleming and Neil McDonald as Mr and Mrs White (Cilla’s real surname).

Her voice is so rich and powerful that she sounded even better than Our Kid, who was prone to being shrill and off key on occasion.

The show bursts with feel-good numbers from the Beatles and Cilla’s numerous hits including Anyone Who Had a Heart, Alife and You’re My World. They drive the narrative, a natural backdrop to the story of her rise to fame and fortune with the help of the Fab Four’s Svengali, Brian Epstein – another wonderful performance from Andrew Lancel.

Carl Au makes a fabulous Bobby, the lovable boy who finally wins his lady through sheer perseverance.

The gaggle of groupies is infectiously enthusiastic, dancing in front of the bands at Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club. There was only one slightly jarring note – a performance by the ‘Mamas and Papas’ in ill-fitting wigs.

The ‘Beatles’ were terrific and looked the parts with their mop tops, clean cut suits and Cuban heels. A real blast from the past.

This is entertainment at its best – a top class cast in a five star show, laced with melodies that have stood the test of time.

It will make a star out of Kara Lily Hayworth whose Liverpool accent is impeccable and whose voice is mesmerising.

Don’t miss her – or the show.

CARR SAYS... I was expecting a lorra’, lorra’ this and a lorra’, lorra’ that.

Thankfully, Cilla the musical spares us the campy quips that defined Cilla Black for a later generation; instead it hones in on where it all began... the young Priscilla White in her native Liverpool.

The working class office girl with the red bob and her girlfriends are living for the evening as they steal away to the legendary Cavern Club, where the rising Beatles are on the cusp of fame.

An open mic night sees Cilla set the dancefloor alight with her powerhouse vocals. Whether this is really true or not hardly matters, Kara Lily Hayworth’s soaring voice easily captures the drama of the moment and gets the ball rolling as Beatles’ manager Brain Epstein steps into the frame.

Hayworth’s studied performance as Cilla Black is perfection. With every inflection and nuanced tone, she invokes the host of Blind Date into all of her spoken words. Her singing is different, powerful and more suited for a contemporary audience, but only a purist would complain.

A crescendo comes with Hayworth’s performance of Anyone Who Had A Heart just before intermission, the song that finally catapults Cilla to the top of the charts.

Barely three of four minutes pass without some legendary anthem helping to sweep the narrative along. My only criticism was a random appearance by The Mamas and Papas singing California Dreamin’, which seemed both out of place and irrelevant to the plot.

I’m not convinced how much is a celebration of Cilla Black or her music, but rather a nostalgic hark back to a time when rock and roll changed the world.

It’s a true rags to riches story about a working class girl on a cobbled street given a flicker of a chance at fame – and she grabbed it with both hands.

Cilla plays at MK Theatre until Saturday, September 30. See here for tickets.