By rights, the late Cilla Black should have gained national treasure status as one of the greatest of 1960s Brit-girl singers rather than the light entertainment queen she became. This new musical by Jeff Pope goes some way to redress the balance, just as the TV mini series his stage play is based upon did before it. Pope focuses on Black's hectic early years that saw big-voiced Scouse teeny-bopper Cilla White move from floor-spots at legendary Liverpool nitespot the Cavern to recording at Abbey Road and playing the London Palladium. Out of this comes a classic showbiz success story that highlights Black's power and credibility as a singer.
This is made clear to stunning effect at the end of the first act, when an astonishing Kara Lily Hayworth captures the full overwrought glory of Anyone Who Had A Heart, Black's first number one, and arguably the best recorded version of the Bacharach and David ballad by a country mile. Much of what precedes Hayworth's show-stopping moment is spent in a mock-up of the Cavern, with Cilla being chased, first by Carl Au's would-be pop sevengali and future husband Bobby Willis, then by Andrew Lancel's real life music mogul Brian Epstein. What follows effectively becomes a three-way love affair with Black's raw talent.
Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson's production is a similar labour of love, especially given that Black's son Robert Willis is the show's executive producer. This invests what happens onstage with a care and commitment that takes it beyond the pantheon of Merseybeat mythology on show. Pope's script is equally devoted in an emotional affair which, like Cilla herself, comes blessed with a common touch that proves to be irresistible.
The Herald, September 21st 2017