When a young Kara Lily Hayworth went up to Cilla Black in a shop and told her she wanted to be a singer and actor, she had no idea that she would one day literally be stepping in to the star’s shoes.
Kara won the eponymous role of Cilla, the new blockbuster musical about the singer and presenter’s early life, after a lengthy process that began with an open audition which saw thousands try out for the part.
Kara recalls the chance meeting when she was 11: ‘I just met her in a clothes shop – it was really random. I was with my mum and I went up to her and said: “I’m going to be a singer and actor”. I’ve always been very confident. I always sang and acted when I was younger.
‘She said: “Well, it’s a tough industry, but if you work hard you’ll be fine”, and I got her autograph.’
The show, produced by theatrical mogul Bill Kenwright, opened earlier this month in her home city of Liverpool, and now heads off around the UK on a six-month tour.
‘I couldn’t even imagine the reception we got there,’ says Kara of the opening, ‘It was really special.
‘Cilla’s son Robert is the executive producer, he brought his kids and there were lots of Cilla’s friends, Paul O’Grady (who Kara starred alongside in a production of Annie when she was 11) was there, it was lovely.
‘It was obviously very nerve-racking though, she was so well-loved you want to make sure you’re doing it right and you’re what they’re hoping for. ’
The 29-year-old admits that growing up she largely knew Cilla as the host of the hit ITV show Blind Date, but had seen the Bafta-nominated drama starring Sheridan Smith about her early years first screened in 2014, a year before Cilla’s untimely death aged 72.
The drama focused on Cilla’s early career when she was championed by fellow Liverpudlians The Beatles and clocked up 17 top 40 hits during the 1960s. She also hosted her own light entertainment show from 1968 to ’76 on BBC1.
It was incredible to perform at The Cavern, You really feel the atmosphereKara Lily Hayworth
‘I did see the TV series and learned a lot about Cilla from that and thought it was fantastic, but I saw that a long time before I knew about this. I didn’t realise what an extensive career she’d had as a singer before, and a lot of those songs, I didn’t realise that I knew them already – I never realised that was her singing.’
The musical has been adapted for the stage by Jeff Pope, who also wrote the TV drama.
‘I’ve got two wonderful people to try and live up to – Sheridan was perfect in the TV show, but this show is very different, there’s obviously a lot more songs in it – it’s a musical. It’s written by Jeff again, but it is a different kettle of fish and very clearly written for the theatre.’
The audition process saw Kara called back several times as the numbers were whittled down. The final four had to perform at legendary Liverpool nightclub The Cavern.
‘It was incredible to perform there. You really do feel the atmosphere.
‘Because we opened in Liverpool, on the Saturday night we all went back to The Cavern after the show and got up on the stage and sang with the boys who were playing The Beatles. It was bizarre. The other cast members were at the front, dancing along and shouting the things they do in the show. It was quite surreal.’
Mayflower Theatre, Southampton