Cilla Black musical to open in Liverpool

  • Bang Showbiz
  • 24 February 2017
Robert and Cilla

Robert Willis and Cilla Black

A musical about the life of the late Cilla Black will open in Liverpool this autumn and the project is the final thing the late star gave her approval to before she died in August 2015

A musical about the life of the late Cilla Black will open in Liverpool this autumn.

The show is based on the 2014 three-part TV drama 'Cilla' and writer Jeff Pope has adapted his screenplay for the theatre, while the 'You're My World' hitmaker's son Robert Willis, revealed 'Cilla, The Musical' was the final project his mother gave her blessing to before she passed away in August 2015 aged 72.

He said: "Once the show had gone out on television, we talked to her about the possibility of doing a stage version.

"Jeff, who hadn't written a book for a musical before, and myself went about looking at musicals, and we visited Liverpool and the Cavern. We had a lot of fun; and my mother was excited about it -- though the success of the drama surprised her a bit. Initially, she couldn't understand why anybody would be that interested.

"When there was such a great reaction to Sheridan [Smith] and the drama -- and therefore to her -- she was touched. She felt in her heart of hearts that she was a pop singer, and so despite how important TV was to her, she really felt that the drama highlighted her passion for singing.

"She was really made up, as she would say, that the drama did that; and people were coming up to her saying it was lovely -- and I was really grateful that she experienced that before she died."

And Robert admitted it was a very emotional decision in going ahead with the musical after his mother's death.

He added: "When she died, naturally, all the plans went on hold. Now the dust has started to settle, we had to make a choice: is this something that we let go? Or continue with.

"We, all of us, felt it would be a sort of living memorial to her. Jeff had already written the script. It was something that would entertain and resonate. So we should go for it.

"It's the last big connection that I have with her. I want to do it for her. It was the last project she wanted to see happen."

The production will explore Cilla's early life as a singer and how she became a star with the help of her future husband Bobby Willis, and music mogul Brian Epstein, and will end just before her spouse helped her become the highest-paid presenter on TV with shows such as 'Blind Date' and 'Surprise, Surprise'.

According to Jeff, the show will concentrate more on the music than his TV programme did, featuring a number of Cilla's songs such as 'Alfie' and 'Liverpool Lullaby', but also the early Merseybeat sound with groups like The Big Three, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, and The Beatles.

But Robert - who was also Cilla's manager - insisted the music will feature in context to the story.

He told the Daily Mail newspaper columnist Baz Bamigboye: "We're not suddenly having Cilla bursting into song over a cup of tea! It's either singing in a club or a recording studio."

Open auditions will be held in the coming months to find a lead.

Robert said of the role: "The key thing is to capture that energy she had: that joy for performing; that sincerity and vulnerability."

The production - which will be directed by Bill Kenwright and Bob Thomson - will open at the Liverpool Empire on September 7 and Robert thinks his mother would have been delighted by the choice of venue.

He said: "It was a theatre my mother loved. Before she became well known, she would wait by the stage door and ask for autographs."

After leaving Liverpool on September 16, 'Cilla, The Musical', will embark on a nine-date tour and there is hope it will eventually transfer to London's West End.

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