Liverpool based Tate James went along to the auditions for Cilla the Musical this week to chat to Cilla’s son and some of the hopefuls auditioning for the iconic role.
The Merseybeat Revolution filled the city with song once more today, as hundreds of hopefuls lined up outside the Liverpool Empire Theatre, in the hope of landing the role of a lifetime.
When you think of Liverpool three things come to mind: football, The Beatles and Cilla Black. Born Priscilla White into a working class family in a poor area of Liverpool, “Our Cilla” began her career much like her close friends, the fab four, at the Cavern Club before taking the UK by storm with an enormously successful singing career under the management of Brian Epstein, and later went on to rule television with her own shows ‘Cilla’, ‘Surprise Surprise’ and ‘Blind Date’. Before her untimely death in 2015, Cilla was household name across the generations whether it be for her distinct singing voice or her infectious personality on screen.
Taking on the role of such an icon of UK music is no mean feat, though made to look easy by actress Sheridan Smith in the three-part ITV biopic ‘Cilla’ in 2015, written by BAFTA winner Jeff Pope, with Cilla’s son, Robert Willis, as Executive Producer. And now the team from that hugely popular mini-series have teamed up with Bill Kenwright and Laurie Mansfield to bring ‘Cilla the Musical’ on tour around the UK.
And the search to find its Leading Lady started today in Cilla’s hometown of Liverpool, as we caught up with Robert Willis and some talented ladies dreaming of donning the ginger wig!
Robert Willis, Executive Producer and Cilla’s Son
How does it feel to begin the audition process here in Liverpool?
“It feels great, the standard is fantastic. There are lots of determined and talented young ladies out there giving it a go and that’s what it’s about. The talent is sort of a given, but you have to be in the right place at the right times to get those lucky breaks.”
You know her better than anyone, what is it you’re looking for in the role of Cilla?
“The most important thing is the ability to sing and act; and to capture the confidence when performing, but also to have the vulnerability. In the part of Cilla’s life we feature, you’re not looking at the consummate professional who had gone through 30 years of performing and knew the craft; it’s a young girl starting out, trying to make it. We need somebody with the ability to sing but we’re not looking for a soundalike, she’ll need capture a shade of her voice and her mannerisms, but also do it in her own way.”
This production is adapted from the TV mini-series starring Sheridan Smith. What was so great about Sheridan’s performance and how can the hopefuls learn from her in these auditions for ‘Cilla the Musical’?
“Sheridan strives to do her very best at all times and so she is a great example. She’s incredibly talented but she never gets complacent, always trying to do the best she ever can. She completely embodies every role, and when she took on the role of Cilla it was not an impersonation. She had the mannerisms and inflection, yes, and she gave a shade of the original Cilla, but her acting really drew you into to the story. And that’s what we need to see from these girls, they have to be believable whether they’re from Liverpool or not.”
What can the audiences expect from ‘Cilla the Musical’?
Essentially, what we’re trying to do with the stage show is to capture the energy and excitement that we caught in the TV drama, in terms of the Cavern Club; and to get that buzz that was around the city at that time. Merseybeat was a relatively small scene, and it became big because of bands like The Beatles; but it was originally just a bunch of like minded kids who loved rock and roll, and they had the enthusiasm of youth and the belief that anything was possible. We really tried to capture that on the TV show and I think we did, and we want to capture that even more so on the stage.”
Before her audition, we spoke to Beth Turnbull, 19, from Blackburn about why she would like to play the part.
Why would you love to play Cilla?
She’s the nations sweetheart, it’s a big responsibility for anyone who gets to play her. I love that she means something different to so many different people. For me she was always a TV personality until I saw the TV show in 2014 and I saw her as a singer. She’s so gutsy and determined. She was from a working class background and she always knew she had something so she went for it. I just love her.”
You don’t sound like you’re from Liverpool, where are you from?
“I’m from Blackburn, so I’m hearing a lot of Scousers today and trying to pick up tips on the accent and not to be too offensive. I think it’s getting there!”
What is your background as a performer?
“I’ve been performing since I was 6 and I’ve just finished the foundation course at RADA.”
What have you chosen to sing today?
“‘Some Other Girl’ by The Beatles”
Auditions continue in Birmingham, Edinburgh and London before ‘Cilla the Musical’ opens in her hometown at the Liverpool Empire Theatre from 7th-16th September 2016, before embarking on a nationwide tour.