Review - Cilla The Musical at Royal & Derngate, Northampton

There was something about the Liverpudlian songbird Cilla Black that drew her to people's hearts and earned her a place as a national treasure.

Kara Lily Hayworth as Cilla Black
Kara Lily Hayworth as Cilla Black

I remember sitting with my Grandmother, back in the '80s, as she religiously tuned in to Blind Date - what a lorra lorra laughs that was - and it was hard not to be won over by the presenter's twinkly eyes, impressive shoulder pads and down to earth humour.

Cilla - The Musical, which is running at Northampton's Royal & Derngate until Saturday, takes the songstress's story back a little further, to the early '60s when she performed in the Merseyside clubs and hung out with The Beatles.

The show, which is an adaptation of Jeff Pope's hit TV series (with Sheridan Smith in the title role) tracks Cilla's rise from frustrated typist to successful singer with her own television show. We learn how manager Brian Epstein helped her become a household name and we also find out more about her growing love for future husband Bobby Willis.

The only fleetingly negative thought that entered my head during the show was in the first scene when I realised how little the star Kara Lily Hayworth resembles Cilla, but that is soon forgotten as she does an amazing job in the role.

Her voice is very beautiful (dare I say, more so than Cilla's?) and she belts out every hit with extraordinary talent and finesse. Her performance of Anyone Who Had A Heart provides a stunning end to the first act.

What I appreciated about this musical is it is not simply a series of great songs interspersed with poorly drawn characters and wooden acting. Cilla was a vibrant personality and the people around her were colourful; something that is fully reflected in the telling of her story in this production.

Highlights for me were performances by Billie Hardy as Pat and Gemma Broderick-Bower as Pauline, who provided some great humour as Cilla's friends and sidekicks in the early days of playing the clubs.

Pauline Fleming and Neil Macdonald also encouraged some real laughs as Cilla's staunchly Catholic parents who were reluctant for her to abandon her reliable job as a typist.

Some great acting also came from Carl Au as the ever-loyal Bobby.

As well as the fantastic vocal performances, which include some Beatles hits, the musical also succeeds in bringing the '60s back to life through a very effective set and costumes. I particularly loved the crowd scenes in the clubs (think the audience shots in old recordings of Top of the Pops...) which gave a real sense of the dance and fashion styles of the time.

For those who remember the swinging '60s, and even for those who don't, Cilla - The Musical is really worth seeing, packed with fabulous music and a poignant reminder of the star that once shone brightly in Cilla Black.

The show runs until Saturday February 24. Tickets for the show can be booked by calling the box office on 01604 624811 or visiting here.