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Kara Lily Hayworth: ‘I auditioned for Cilla as I’m about the right height – and I’m ginger’

Kara Lily Hayworth. Photo: Jono Symonds Kara Lily Hayworth. Photo: Jono Symonds

Kara Lily Hayworth was plucked from 2,000 hopefuls to star in a Cilla Black musical. She tells Catherine Jones about her first break as Annie, meeting Cilla herself and opening in the Scottie Road songbird’s home town.

Kara Lily Hayworth, a performer with vibrant red hair and a singing voice that packs a powerful punch, has landed the role of her life: the lead in a major new musical about Cilla Black.

But if headlining a new show for the first time wasn’t enough pressure, the Buckinghamshire-born actor makes her debut performance on September 7 as one of Liverpool’s favourite daughters at the city’s Empire Theatre. Anticipation from the audience is likely to be at fever pitch.

She seems remarkably unflustered as we meet in a break from rehearsals ahead of her debut, confident she can convince the home crowd she’s the Scottie Road songbird, right down to Black’s distinctive Liverpudlian tones.

“I really hope so,” she says. “I’ve been practising and listening to tons of recordings. I’ve always had quite a good ear for accents, so actually it’s a real treat to do it.”

She describes Black’s story of rising to fame as “inspirational” and “magical”, but her own isn’t bad. The star of Cilla the Musical was plucked from obscurity during open auditions in May, which attracted 2,000 hopefuls. After opening in Liverpool it heads around the UK, marking the first time Hayworth has been on tour.

“To be chosen to play Cilla is such an honour and I’m so excited to take on the role. To open in her home town of Liverpool is so special and a real privilege.”

Hayworth queued for four hours at London’s Dominion Theatre during the first round, making it through to the final 30 with her final audition coming at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, the venue where Black made her name.

Hayworth, who says Black was a “huge inspiration to me as a child”, will sing some of the Liverpudlian’s best loved songs, from Alfie to Something Tells Me.


 Q&A: Kara Lily Hayworth

What was your first non-theatre job?  A Saturday job in a cafe near my home. I was rubbish. I spilt a coffee on a very wealthy lady’s white suit, and I think that might have been the end of my job at the cafe.

What was your first professional theatre job? The national tour of Annie in 1999 with Paul O’Grady.

What do you wish someone had told you when you were starting out? If you don’t get jobs or recalls, it’s generally no reflection on your talent. The right thing will come along if you persevere, work hard and keep true to yourself – and all those cheesy things.

Who or what was your biggest influence? When I was growing up I was a huge fan of Celine Dion. I still am. I’ve seen her in concert several times and she was the reason I started singing. But reading about Cilla’s rise to fame and the knockbacks along the way, that’s inspirational as well, and quite magical.

What’s your best advice for auditions? Remember the people on the panel want you to be good. They’ve asked you there and they’re on your side. They’re not out to get you, they’ve called you because they want you to be wonderful and get the job. Just do your best. You should never be scared of a panel. I should take my own advice, really.

If you hadn’t been an actor, what would you have been? I love photography. I do a little bit of photography alongside acting. When I’m out of work I do actors’ headshots and things like that. That’s probably what I’d do. That’s my muggle job.

Do you have any theatrical superstitions or rituals? No I don’t, I’m not a superstitious person at all.

Cilla the Musical, which is based on BAFTA-winning writer Jeff Pope’s ITV series, tells the story of Black’s rise from ambitious Cavern cloakroom girl to chart-topping 1960s star. It is directed by Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson.

When it came to Black, producers at Bill Kenwright Ltd – and Black’s son Robert Willis – maintained their key criteria was finding “someone who the audience would fall in love with” rather than a look- and soundalike.

Hayworth was working as Satine in Secret Cinema’s Moulin Rouge at the time, but jokes she decided to give the auditions a whirl as she was “about the right height – and I’m a ginger!”

Willis hailed the actor’s “huge personality and amazing voice”, adding that when he saw the audience response at the Cavern “I knew she was the one my mum would have wanted”.

Hayworth has long had stars in her eyes. She started dance classes at five, the same age as the then Priscilla White would be encouraged to sing, standing on top of a kitchen table.

She studied acting with a musical stage specialism at Central School of Speech and Drama and, since leaving in 2010, her work has ranged from music videos and commercials to theatre and small parts on TV and film. She is also a member of girl group Zyrah Rose.

Hayworth was a 10-year-old schoolgirl when she got her first break starring as the red-headed orphan in a UK tour of Annie the Musical. It was a production in which Paul O’Grady – in the guise of Birkenhead Bombshell Lily Savage – played alcoholic harridan Miss Hannigan.

Soon after completing the tour, Hayworth was out shopping with her mother Janice when they bumped into one of O’Grady’s closest friends.

“It was a chance meeting in a clothes shop,” she recalls of her encounter with none other than Black herself. “I just went up to her and said I wanted her autograph and that I was going to be a singer and an actress when I was older.”

Hayworth, who says she watched Blind Date every Saturday with her grandmother, continues: “There was no question about it – I think my confidence was very high at that point. I just thought the world was my oyster, and then later realised it’s not actually that easy. I thought you just go to an audition and get a job, right?”

Sometimes that strategy does work, as her new role confirms. “Yes, it does,” Hayworth says. “But then, I’ve had far, far more auditions where it’s been a no. And sometimes you’ll go for a job you think you’re really right for, and you won’t even get a recall. And then the next week you’ll get an amazing part.”

Just weeks before getting the lead in Cilla the Musical, she had several auditions without a single recall. “You beat yourself up about it a bit, thinking: ‘What did I do wrong?’ And quite often it’s that you didn’t look right, or you didn’t sound like what they had in their heads,” she says.

Given the number of applicants to the opening auditions for Cilla the Musical, she had no real expectation of getting this role, either. Now she just want to nail the part – though she does have dreams of it travelling to the West End – and do Black proud.

“Robert was at the read-through, and you could see he got emotionally invested in it,” she says, adding: “It’s just wanting to do her justice, really.”

CV: Kara Lily Hayworth

Born: 1988, Chesham, Buckinghamshire
Training: Central School of Speech and Drama, BA (hons) Acting Musical Stage
Landmark productions: Theatre: Annie, UK tour (1999), The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Arts Theatre, London (2012). Film: The Huntsman (2015)
Agent: Olivia Bell Management

Cilla the Musical runs at the Empire Theatre, Liverpool, until September 16, before a UK tour

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