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Theatre Review: Cilla The Musical

By Julia Parry | 24th January 2018

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This week at York’s Grand Opera House, the Mersey Sound is resurrected to the absolute delight of the packed auditorium: Cilla the Musical is in town.

The show is based on the acclaimed three part ITV mini-series from 2014, written by BAFTA award winner Jeff Pope. Thousands of hopefuls auditioned nationwide for the much coveted role of Cilla and Kara Lily Hayworth was the much deserved winner; quite an accolade to be chosen by executive producer Robert Willis, Cilla and Bobby Willis’ son who became Cilla’s agent after his father’s death.

The ITV mini-series has been condensed into a two and a half hour stage production telling the story of Cilla’s rise to fame as a singer in the early 1960s. Three of the original cast members are re-united for the stage show: Tom Dunlea plays Johnny Hutchinson, Michael Hawkins is an excellent John Lennon and Gemma Broderick-Bower is Pauline. Andrew Lancel was a natural to play Brian Epstein after gaining critical acclaim playing him on stage in ‘Epstein- The Man Who Made The Beatles’.

In between the extensive and brilliantly executed musical numbers - incorporating many hits from the ’60s and much to the delight of the audience who were happily singing along - the story of Cilla’s musical career unfolds along with the enduring love story that is her and Bobby Willis (Carl Au); how they became inseparable as a couple - her as the star and he as her devoted and loyal manager after the tragic death of Brian Epstein.

The stage morphed from the iconic Cavern Club with its moving stage to various homes and streets around Liverpool to the Abbey Road recording studio as well as The London Palladium and finally becoming the Cilla Show TV set with its bright lights and sparkling dresses befitting of the much-loved TV star that Cilla became.

Epstein’s vision for her certainly came to fruition. He believed as a pop singer she would have a short career but with Cilla’s natural charm and personality she could have a long career in television, a legacy which is still continuing after both her and Bobby’s death with this fantastic new stage production.

The warmth and humour of Liverpudlians shines through in the script and the non stop hits of the 60s certainly had the audience up on its feet clapping and singing along. This touring production finishes its stint in York on Saturday 27 January, Cilla’s enduring popularity meaning this week is virtually sold out. Cilla the Musical has a special sprinkling of magic, surely a classic in the making.

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