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Cilla The Musical (New Wimbledon Theatre)

November 15, 2017

(seen at the afternoon performance on 11th November 2017).

Apparently conceived around the same time as the noted television biopic, Jeff Pope makes deft work of adapting the same material for the live stage. Bill Kenwright and co-director Bob Tomson give the thing a smart pace, with a simple and atmospheric set by Gary McCann and some (non-period, but life-enhancing) lighting from Nick Richings.

Scott Alder and Marc McBride bowl the famous tunes to the audience, the arrangements of “Zip-a-dee Doo Dah” and “Twist and Shout” are particular highlights. If choreographer Carole Todd is a little reluctant to let the “kids” free-style to the early numbers, once they relax, they dance up a storm.

And yes, I’m playing games with the person reading this… you all want to know about Cilla herself, right? OK, so, one Kara Lily Hayworth. Sounds like Cilla, has the same warmth as Cilla and – if not the same physical stature – is pretty much perfect in the role. Had the show opened in the West End, her acclaim would have been assured within the popular press and industry as a whole. As it is, I’m certain she will find her place in the top flight in due course anyway. Her “Liverpool Lullaby” in particular confirms the talent.

There are similarly impressive performances from the other people in her remarkable life. Her Bobby (Carl Au) matures impressively through the story, and (for those who remember him from “Waterloo Road”) has a surprisingly good voice – “Shy of Love” and “Taste of Honey” a lovely moment in the show.

The always reliable Andrew Lancel (Brian Epstein) is a man on the edge, leading a double-life of which he is not always in control. The inevitability of his downfall is not just in the writing, but the clues Lancel sows in his performance. Similarly nuanced (and with added trumpet) Tom Sowinski’s scenes as precise George Martin are another highlight.

In smaller roles, Amy Bridges (Rose) and Billie Hardy (Pat) capture Liverpool youngsters to perfection, while back in the White household Paul Broughton (John White) serves up a proud “man of the sea” father to “could have been” wife Pauline Fleming (Big Cilla).

With sound work from the team impersonating the Beatles – Bill Caple (Ringo), Michael Hawkins (John Lennon), Alex Harford (George Harrison) and Joshua Gannon (Paul McCartney), and some fun from Alan Howell as Gerry Marsden and Burt Bacharach (a well-conceived “Alfie” sequence), there’s some great extra songs and decent humour too.

The necessities of giving actors time to rest between big numbers and the crew time to change the scene results in a slightly long 2 hours 50 minutes running time (counting 20 minutes interval), and it’s always pretty clear where the “breathers” are in the show, but it really doesn’t matter. The cast do their energetic best, the music is a never-ending flow of timeless hits and the star performance is a glittering diamond doing justice to the memory of a showbiz legend. A lorra, lorra fun.

4 stars.

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