As part of its UK tour, the stage adaptation of the critically acclaimed Bafta nominated ITV series, originally starring Sheridan Smith, stopped in Bradford where LEO OWEN caught the show

IN tribute to the Mersey beat Liverpool’s golden girl rose from, the stage curtain is a graffiti-covered wall of band names. Cilla: The Musical playfully begins with a young Cilla delivering a monologue, imagining being interviewed, aspiring high as her wish for 1963 is “an indoor toilet”. Interrupted by her father, the stage opens onto a brick archway framing a band on stage.

Designer Gary McCann predominantly sets Cilla inside the White house, various gig venues and on the streets of Liverpool. Turning his hand to the stage, award-winning film and TV writer Jeff Pope adapts his celebrated drama, keeping in key elements from the series, such as the Protestant/ Catholic divide; Cilla’s pre-Beatles friendship with Ringo and John Lennon; her first audition flop with Brian Epstein (Andrew Lancel); early vowel training and her manager Bobby Willis’ (Carl Au) sheer determination to woo her.

Cilla’s rise to fame is documented through a series of gigs at famous venues, such as The Cavern Club and appearances from famous contemporaries, such as The Mamas & the Papas, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Big Three. Familiar more upbeat songs like “I Like It”, “Twist and Shout”, “You Really Got a Hold of Me”, “Summertime” “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Dancing in the Street” give the show balance and energy amid a host of popular Cilla ballads.

Cilla’s Abbey Road Studios recording of “Anyone Who Had a Heart” aptly closes Act One. As Cilla, Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist Kara Lily Hayworth belts it out, proving herself a more than capable tribute to Liverpool’s beloved entertainer. From gigs to recordings, Cilla’s soon waiting at the red phone box on the end of her street for hit parade news.

Act Two neatly opens as the play began but Cilla is no longer fantasising about being interviewed and quick, seamless costume changes signify her having “made it”, graduating to the London Palladium, singing “You’re My World” in a green glittery dress. Psychedelic sixty’s costumes and a multi-coloured light box set with a red velvet curtain reflect her change in circumstance and fortune as Cilla especially flies in Burt Bacharach to orchestrate the arrangement for “Alfie”.

As a person, Cilla generally comes across as a good egg and is more playful than diva until Bobby is offered his own recording contract and she loses herself to fame. Predictable love rifts, bereavement and her own son Robert Willis acting as Executive Producer thankfully help Cilla to rediscover herself. Her story is a bittersweet rise to being a TV star – an accidental path she took as a tribute to her manager.

The show’s end oddly seems to peter out and attempts to pick up the energy with giant flashing letters and a drawn-out medley of songs, an indecipherable concert style mish-mash. Cilla is undoubtedly a big personality that is matched by familiar hits but overall her story lacks. Accents are iffy, sets wobbly, wigs dodgy, “Merchant Navy” jokes wear thin, some duets are off, songs occasionally feel shoe-horned in and its running time is noticeably lengthy. That said, although Lancel’s performance falls flat, the bands are great and the large lively ensemble look like they’re having fun, pleasing their packed-out auditorium. It is Hayworth alone who deserves the standing ovation given; she’s a true powerhouse.

Cilla showed at The Alhambra November 28 to December 2 as part of its tour: