Cilla the Musical: A Star is Born

Cilla the Musical opened at Birmingham’s New Alex Theatre last night and proved to be the best new musical of the year. The story of the rise to fame of the legendary Cilla Black, and her love story with Bobby Willis is an astounding piece of theatre that combines the best music of the 1960s with a poignant story, and, with incredible performances from the whole cast, this musical is set to be a new classic.

It’s 1962 and Priscilla White is a Liverpool typist who longs to be a singer. Plucking up the courage to get up on stage with a local band, she is spotted by local boy Bobby Wlllis, who is immediately smitten by her talent and personality. He offers to be her manager, although his first attempt at negotiating a contract fails miserably and sees him out of pocket every time she sings. Her friends are another Liverpool band, The Beatles, and they arrange for her to sing with them as a sort of audition for their manager, the debonair Brian Epstein. But Cilla chooses the wrong song and the audition is a disaster. With help from Bobby, she gets back on her feet and back on stage, and when Epstein chances upon Cilla singing gutsy rock and roll, he sees her potential and signs her to a contract. After one false start, Cilla is number one. But what does fame mean to her relationship with Bobby? And is the music she is singing really what is right for her. Cilla gets her fame, but also everything unwanted that comes with it.

Cast of Cilla The Musical – Liverpool Empire – Photo By Matt Martin

In the role of Cilla we have a star making performance by the incredible Kara Lily Hayworth. She is Cilla, from the voice, the mannerisms, the sparkling personality, basically everything we loved about our favourite Scouser. When she delivers ‘Anyone who had a heart’ it is literally spine tingling, the hairs on your arms just stand up, and ‘You’re my World’ is equally as good. The relationship with Bobby is fabulous, the chemistry, banter and, at times, the pain, is all there.

Kara Lily Hayworth (Cilla) – Cilla The Musical – Liverpool Empire – Photo By Matt Martin

Bobby is played by Carl Au and it is another performance that blows you away. His Bobby is cheeky, likeable and self sacrificing, he has a beautiful voice, best demonstrated on ‘A Taste of Honey’ where he gives a stunning delivery, but abandons his chance of fame to be Cilla’s rock, even though, at times, she treats him appallingly.

Completing the three central performances we have the always reliable Andrew Lancel as Brian Epstein in a performance that is filled with pathos. His deterioration, from the suave, assured manager and businessman of the early scenes, to the desperate man ravaged by his demons in his final scenes, is devastating, a heartbreaking performance that gives Cilla a dark edge.

The scene setting of the 1960s, with note perfect musical performances from The Beatles, The Mamas and the Papas (absolutely uncanny) and Gerry and the Pacemakers, all go to make this the consummate 1960s musical. Add in the sets that eerily recreate The Cavern and The Ed Sullivan show and you have a classy retelling of a fascinating story.

Kara Lily Hayworth (Cilla) – Cilla The Musical – Liverpool Empire – Photo By Matt Martin

Cilla the Musical is simply brilliant. Beg, steal of borrow a ticket. Five Stars all the way.

CILLA – THE MUSICAL

WRITTEN BY JEFF POPE

DIRECTED BY BILL KENWRIGHT & BOB TOMSON

New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham                                                    atgtickets.com/Birmingham

10 – 14 October

Frothy and Fabulous – Hairspray arrives in Birmingham

Big, bold, bright and beautiful and that could just be describing the leading lady Tracey Turnblad, Hairspray arrived in suitably glittering style at the Birmingham Hippodrome last night. The musical, which mixes the fun and frolics of the Corny Collins show, with the dark undercurrents of racial inequality in 1960s Baltimore, received a standing ovation from an ecstatic audience who had been thoroughly entertained. As the final song exclaims, you really can’t stop the beat. Last night, Birmingham couldn’t stop the beat!

26230_full

Tracey Turnblad is a big girl growing up in 1960s Baltimore, but that doesn’t stop her being confident, cool and full of ambitions. She wants to be the newest dancer on the Corny Collins show and wants to win the man of her dreams, teen hunk Link Larkin. Whilst spending time in detention (again) she forms a friendship with black teenager Seaweed and his friends, a group she had seen on the Corny Collins show during ‘Negro Day’. They teach her their style of dancing (the Peyton Place) and she soon catches the eye of both Corny Collins and her beloved Link, but buoyed by her loving and supportive parents Edna and Wilbur, and Seaweed’s mother, Motormouth Maybelle, her dreams start to shift to something more serious and important, racial integration on the Corny Collins show. It is a serious message of ugly times, hidden in the froth and fun of the brightest musical around.

The whole ensemble cast is faultless, there is not a wrong move, with exceptional singing and dancing, comedic episodes and moments of real pathos. But there are still standouts even within the perfection. The brilliant Rebecca Mendoza, in her stage debut,  was born to play Tracey, she is a ball of energy and enthusiasm who literally lights up the stage – you are always waiting for her to return to the stage when she is not there.  Her partner in crime is the hilarious Annalise Liard-Bailey as Penny Pingleton, all sweetness and dipsy one liners.  Teen Dream support is also offered by Layton Williams and Edward Chitticks as Seaweed and Link, both showing great singing talent and skilled dance moves. Layton Williams in particular, is a polished and charismatic performer, another stand out in a cast at the top of its game.

As Edna and Wilbur, Matt Rixon and Norman Pace are wonderful, their sense of comedic timing only matched by the warmth and charm of their performances. Gina Murray hams up a storm as the manipulative Velma Von Tussle, having great fun in her villainous role, while Brenda Edwards (Motormouth Maybelle) manages to just about bring the house down with her emotional, passionate performance of ‘I know where I’ve been’. All in all, the perfect cast performing the perfect feel good musical.

With costumes to die for, infectious, retro sounding songs that you feel like you’ve heard before, and a live band on stage providing the icing on the cake, Hairspray is a fabulous treat you should definitely indulge in this Autumn.As those dark nights draw in, Hairspray brings a riot of sparkle and colour. Go see!

Hairspray

 

Tuesday 10th – Saturday 14th October, Birmingham Hippodrome.

Click here for ticket information

 

The Wedding Singer is a Joy at Wolverhampton Grand

I really should start this review with a disclaimer. I absolutely love the movie version of ‘The Wedding Singer.’ I love it as a love letter to the 1980s, it’s use of fashion and music, and the superb cast, Drew Barrymore, Adam Sandler, Billy Idol and the rappiing granny. So as much as I was looking forward to the musical theatre version which is currently at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, there was some sense of trepidation. I needn’t have worried. The Wedding Singer is just glorious, the ultimate feel good night out that has music, comedy and a lovely warm centre,

It’s 1985 and Robbie Hart is a wedding singer, part of a group with his best friends Sammy and George who provide music at nuptials. Robbie is looking forward to his own upcoming wedding to Linda. But when Linda leaves him a ‘Dear John’ letter and literally jilts him at the alter, Robbie’s life falls apart. But support is forthcoming from the lovely Julia, a waitress at many of the weddings he plays at, and the pair start to fall in love. Unfortunately Julia is engaged to the rather odious Wall Street dealer Glen Gulia, and so it seems that the perfectly matched couple will never get together.

There is so much to love about The Wedding Singer. The performances are a joy, with the whole cast just perfect in their roles. Jon Robyns is fantastic as Robbie, warm and funny in his happier times, and frankly hilarious when he loses it during ‘Somebody Kill Me.’ He has a wonderful chemistry with Cassie Compton as Julia, and Cassie herself is just lovely as Julia, sweet and charming throughout. Ray Quinn is a great bad guy as Glen Gulia, and his performance of ‘All about the Green’ is another highlight, whilst the veteran Ruth Madoc is frankly hysterical, I don’t think I will ever get over the sight of Ruth rapping and dabbing.

The supporting cast are also brilliant, with Ashley Emerson (Sammy), Samuel Holmes (George) and Madonna-alike Stephanie Clift (Holly) all stealing scenes and looking like they are totally enjoying themselves. And mention must be made of the numerous supporting roles played by Mark Pearce. Each characterisation he made was memorable and superb, from the bitter drunk brother giving a wedding speech, to the barfly extolling the single life in the ‘Single’ bar scene.

The Wedding Singer nods its head towards 1980s pop culture in so many wonderful ways, from the choreography in the ‘Casulty of Love’ scene with echoes of Thriller, to the priceless ‘Single’ bar scene that could be from an episode of Cheers, with the ‘Single’ song as its theme tune. Combined with the likes of Tina Turner, Mr T and, of course, Billy Idol appearing in those final scenes, and you have a musical that is a real tribute to all that was good about the 1980s (and in the Wall Street scenes with Ray, all that was bad about the decade of greed.)

Funny, feel good and with a fabulous cast, The Wedding Singer is not to be missed. I loved it from start to finish.

Thu 5 Oct – Sat 7 Oct

THE WEDDING SINGER

Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Click here for ticket information