Written By: Barbara Sherlock
Date: September 4 2018
Location: Epstein Theatre, Liverpool
This touring show is brought to life by London-based RED Entertainment. In their own words, “Producer Matt Brinkler leads a talented team of production and creative staff in the creation of new and exciting commercial works aimed at bringing new audiences to local theatres.” Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre (aptly re-named after Cilla’s former manager Brian Epstein) played host to Cilla And The Shades Of The 60s with a packed house.
It was obvious from the foyer that this was not a ‘typical’ theatre crowd. Some of the audience may be new to theatre, but with an average age of 75, the mix of long-married couples and small groups of women dressed to the nines were certainly not new to the sounds of the sixties. It was always going to be a challenge bringing a show set in Liverpool’s world-famous Cavern Club, and starring Liverpool icon Cilla Black, to the city of Liverpool. But this audience, still a little raw from Cilla’s untimely death only three years ago, was up for good music, some fun and a little reminiscence of Cilla and their own youth.
The stage was lit, just, with the word Cilla in big letters. The house lights dimmed and four stage lights shone blindingly into the audience. If they were expecting a Cilla musical biography, they were disappointed. This is an unashamed 60s musical tribute act. The Shades Of The 60s is a girl trio of fabulous singers who can each belt out a ballad or dance song with enthusiasm. They appeared perilously close to the front of the stage in bottom-grazing Sixties mini-dresses, following a back projection of grainy documentary-style black and white film footage, with an accompanying voice-over (a theme throughout) introducing Liverpool and the Cavern Club in the sixties.
Singing songs through clouds of smoke to a thunderous backing track, including The Beatles’ Help and Lulu’s Shout (and a slightly out-of-place Patsy Cline’s Crazy), the trio performed their song and dance routines, taking the audience back to the sixties with the aid of two additional well-rehearsed, high-energy, high-kicking shimmying dancers. Good as this was, it was a full fifteen minutes before Cilla (Victoria Jones) appeared through thick smoke and dim stage lighting. Jones is petite and body-toned with a huge voice. She can sing anything and is destined for a musical theatre career. Jones ran through Cilla’s early hits including Alfie and Liverpool Lullaby, all recognisable but musically rearranged to suit her voice, to the receptive warmed-up audience.
Songs were interspersed with sparse facts such as “this was my first number one” (Anyone Who Had A Heart). It is fair to say Jones doesn’t look like Cilla, sound like Cilla or perform like Cilla. I checked (in the swift interval only forty-five minutes in) with fellow audience members to make sure it wasn’t my own surprising sudden fondness for “our Cilla” and surprise, surprise, they looked a bit crestfallen but they agreed. We decided, however, that it was the ‘essence’ of Cilla, and Jones is charming (and from Liverpool) and was aiming to suspend our disbelief and enjoy the tribute in the spirit of Cilla.
The second half format was much the same as the first, except it was thirty minutes of The Shades Of The 60s, which was fifteen minutes too long. The Cilla story jumped to her television career with a hilarious version of Blind Date with the three ‘Shades’ and a male audience member. Jones excels in this, giving a convincing homage to Cilla. Songs continued with the happy audience cheerfully clapping along, until finally Cilla’s You’re My World quite rightly brought the house down. I am all for realism but inexplicably Brinkler, who also wrote and directed the show, introduces old film footage of a young Cilla accompanied by the announcement of Cilla’s death and Jimmy Tarbuck’s funeral tribute. In the words of the man sitting behind me, “No need”. The cast fortunately managed to revive the audience with a medley of 60s favourites and had those who were able to stand on their feet doing so.
There is a lot to work with here: a great cast, tried-and-tested popular songs, period choreography by Rebecca Jeffery and much sequined costumes, but the show needs refinement. It is disjointed at times, the lighting needs a thorough overhaul, and there could be less of an audience interaction holiday camp feel. The Shades Of The 60s would work brilliantly on a cruise ship where quality musical theatre performers are heading in droves. Lovers of 60s music will really enjoy this show, though. Overall, Victoria Jones leads with passion and does herself justice paying fabulous tribute to “Cilla The Singer”.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good