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

A Red Carpet night for ‘All or Nothing’ at The New Alex Theatre

Friday night saw a red carpet event and aftershow party for ‘All or Nothing’. the Mod musical which tells the story of the rise and fall of 1960s band ‘The Small Faces’. Held at the New Alex Theatre, where it was coming to the end of a very successful run. the red carpet event included Vespas, lots of wine, and an eclectic audience made up of Mods, celebrities and music fans. They were all in for a treat with a musical that is, by turns, laugh out loud funny, and a sombre reflection of the nature of the music industry in the 1960s, where thugs/businessmen like Don Arden chewed up young musicians and spat them out again. The Small Faces were a perfect example of exploited talent who never got the dues they worked so hard for.

Al or Nothing is written by Carol Harrison, perhaps best known for her role as Louise Raymond in Eastenders. She has produced an extraordinary piece of theatre, it probably is ‘the coolest musical ever’. Carol also plays the role of Kay Marriot, the mother of Steve Marriot, and a real heart of the story, a vibrant East End mother with a posh telephone voice and aspirations that her boy might one day work with Sir Laurence Olivier. Young Steve (Samuel Pope – all cheeky sass and attitude) has other ideas, his heart and soul lie in making music, and a chance meeting with Kenney Jones (Stefan Edwards) and Ronnie Lane (Stanton Wright) sets the wheels in motion for the band that will become the Small Faces. A change of personnel sees the tall Jimmy Winston(Joseph Peters) replaced by the pint sized Ian McLagan (Josh Maddison) and the classic Small Faces line up is complete and set for stardom. But fame does not bring fortune, as the band are exploited by a string of managers, and the charismatic but self destructive Marriot ruins their chances of world wide success with obnoxious behaviour that sees them banned from the likes of Top of the Pops. All or Nothing tells this story in blistering fashion, complete with a string of classic hits that are played live by a talented cast of actors who can also sing like a dream.

 

 

One of the things that makes All or Nothing such a spell binding, and ultimately tragic experience, is the narration from an older, and by now dead, Steve Marriot. Played by the brilliant Chris Simmons, it is like Marriot is looking back at his experiences, enjoying the good times, and wishing he could turn back time as he realises the mistakes he made (his band become the Faces with Rod Stewart after he left abrubtly in 1968.) Chris is exceptional in the role, he noticeably deteriorates as the play continues, mirroring what happened to Marriot, who was killed in a house fire in the early 1990s. It is heartbreaking to watch, and his final scene with mom Kay (Carol Harrison at her most poignant) is almost eerie in its sadness, particularly a final rendition of All or Nothing.

Another thing that I loved about ‘All or Nothing’ is that it superbly recreates the era of the 1960s, from a very funny episode of Top of the Pops with Daniel Beares just hilarious as Tony Blackburn, to scenes including Sonny and Cher and an incredible Dusty Springfield (Sophia Benn – just wow!). Juke Box Jury, Ready Steady Go, Andrew Loog Oldham and Rod Stewart, they are all there, and it gives the musical real resonance, not just looking at the band in splendid isolation, but placing them at the centre of Swinging London.

All or Nothing is the ultimate mod musical, cool, funny and heart rending. No wonder everyone, including the Modfather Paul Weller, is desperate to see this show.

All or Nothing Red Carpet and Aftershow

With thanks to The Ambassadors Group and East Village PR for the invitation.