Anyone who has a heart will surely enjoy the latest feel-good musical from Bill Kenwright, simply entitled Cilla. Tracing the early years of Cilla Black’s life and career, Jeff Pope’s musical follows the same timeline as his 2014 TV drama Cilla starring Sheridan Smith. The stage show premiered at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool – the singer’s home town where a statue was unveiled outside the Cavern Club by her three sons earlier this year. Cilla herself was involved in the first draft of the script prior to her death in August 2015 after a fall at her villa in Estepona, Spain.

Cilla is essentially about a young girl’s ambition, with a love story set against the backdrop of the 1960s. Kenwright – who also directs – has wisely found a new star in Kara Lily Hayworth to play Cilla, rather than casting a well-known face. Hayworth attended an open audition and did her final audition at the Cavern Club. Having met Cilla at the age of 11 when she saw her out shopping and asked for an autograph, Hayworth has a number of musical theatre credits, while concentrating on performing with her band Zyrah Rose for the last three years.

Hayworth’s Cilla is not quite an impersonation but more a representation of the star’s accent, vocals and look – she wears the clothes, hair and make-up of the time and certainly captures her spirit. Cilla started singing for a bit of a laugh with her best girlfriends while out in the Cavern Club where she was a coat-check girl. Friends with John Lennon, she auditions for Brian Epstein (Andrew Lancel) but is originally turned down as her songs were in the wrong key for her voice. Hayworth conveys her initial awkward appearances on stage early on before gaining confidence with experience as she blossoms into a star.

Cilla also provides a touch of social history for those of us who weren’t around in the Sixties, and is no doubt full of nostalgia for those who were. Cilla came from a working class background – her family lived above a hairdressers shop with no front door to call their own. They had no telephone either – Cilla and Bobby wait outside a phone box at a designated time for a phone call from Brian Epstein to find out how high she had charted. Many scenes include dances in the iconic Cavern Club – the Beatles are also featured, with reference to Ringo Starr replacing Pete Best just before they hit it big.

The religious and moral values of the time are also referenced – Cilla’s parents Big Cilla (Pauline Fleming) and John White (Paul Broughton) are initially reluctant to let her go out into the big world of showbiz, to give up her steady typing job and to change her surname from White to Black. Cilla was from a Catholic family whereas Bobby was Protestant – this was a big issue for Bobby’s brother who had married a Catholic girl but been disowned by his father. Unsurprisingly, Cilla doesn’t dwell too much on her manager Brian Epstein’s liking for rough young men – we see him with one of his enthusiastic young fashion-loving conquests at the beginning, but then only see the bruises as his situation gets darker.

The love story with Carl Au’s Bobby is central to the plot of Cilla – Au gives the character a characteristically grounded reality. Bobby wanted to be more than the guy who carries Cilla’s bags around – he wanted to be a proper manager. Bobby also had a good singing voice, but didn’t pursue it as he wanted to be the utter best in what he did. Bobby usually stood within Cilla’s eyeshot when she was recording and really was her right-hand man in so many ways.

Cilla is a real crowd-pleaser – the brief scenes frame an endless succession of Sixties numbers, including Cilla’s hits ‘Anyone who had a heart’, ‘You’re my world’ and ‘Alfie’ – a Burt Bacharach song recorded for the Michael Caine movie during endless takes after Bacharach was brought over from Los Angeles for the recording session. Other songs from the period are also featured, including The Beatles ‘Twist and shout’, Gerry and the Pacemakers ‘I like it’ and ‘California dreaming’ by the Mamas and Papas. But it’s Hayworth’s numbers as Cilla that get the most response – and the finale version of ‘Through the years’ gets the audience well and truly on their feet. Black would have surely approved.