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Review: Morning Melodies: The Songs of Cilla Black at Arts Centre Melbourne

By Taylor Kendal

After attending many of the Morning Melodies sessions this year, I’ve come to realize how special these performances are. On many occasions, they are specially created and crafted by an artist to honor the musical influences who have shaped their life and career as a performer. This month’s offering, The Songs of Cilla Black, is no different. Created and performed by Danielle O’Malley, currently seen in the Australian production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this one hour tribute weaves together the stories, the humour and of course the music of one of the UK’s most witty and talented divas, with the promise early on to give the feeling of ‘wanting to go home and dust off your records with a cup of tea’.

Admittedly, though I had heard of the name Cilla Black before, I couldn’t immediately think of any specific song of hers. Though this could be due to my age, I went in with a completely blank slate. I was certainly not disappointed. After the first few numbers, I quickly felt a sense of familiarity, taken back to the days I would spend with my grandparents (huge influences in my taste in music) and listen to their old records, a habit I still have today. Accompanied by a stunning four piece band (Sonja Horbelt on drums, Jordan Tarento on Double Bass and Electric Bass, and Tim Wilson on Sax and Flute), musically directed by Mark Jones (also on piano), O’Malley steps out onto the stage already every sense of a diva, in a stunning pink sequined dress and launching into Step Inside Love, beginning a show of some of the most quintessential torch songs of the 60s and 70s. There is no hesitation that O’Malley has the talent and stage presence to not only command the stage but to pull off some big numbers ahead of her; her voice is stunning and effortless in every sense of the word, with vocals that remind you of the likes of Shirley Bassey and of course, Cilla Black.

When addressing the crowd, O’Malley has a sweetness to her that is warm and well received by the audience. It is clear that this performance is crafted with love and a tribute to someone who has clearly had a large influence on her life and her career. There is no shortage of anecdotes about Cilla’s humble upbringings in Liverpool, her friendship with The Beatles (and her boasting about having seen them all in their underwear), her friendship and partnership with manager Brian Epstein in some of the loveliest glimpses into their relationship before his passing, and of course, the brash and honest humour that Cilla was renowned for. One of the highlights was O’Malley’s admittance that she would slip in and out of the famous Liverpool accent, showing hints of Cilla throughout the performance. Frankly, if she hadn’t said anything to the contrary, you would be convinced that O’Malley was a Mersey Beat native herself.

Though it seems rather difficult to fit in the highlights of Cilla Black’s long and illustrious career into one hour, but O’Malley manages to use what she considers the highlights to give a taste of the talent that was Cilla Black. With classics such as Anyone Who Had A Heart, Liverpool Lullaby and Going Out of My Head, O’Malley brings the spirit of Cilla Black in all her brash, honest divalicious glory, while adding an element that is truly her own. A few highlights were the Beatles Medley of songs that Cilla covered (Help/Gotta Get You Into My Life/Norwegian Wood/ In My Life), a stunning rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water, What the World Needs Now, and of course, Alfie, complete with a funny anecdote about Cilla and a small run in with Burt Bacharach. Likely the sweetest moment however, was when I noticed an elder couple sitting a few seats away from me, holding hands and singing quietly along. It is moments like that that you truly realise the power of music and the everlasting, timeless quality that it has for people.

There is something about the music of this time and place that seems to resonate with people even today. Be it couples remembering the songs they danced to in their youth, a renewed love of the divas of the past, or the younger generation remembering a song that they might have heard in passing when they were younger. Regardless of the how, Danielle O’Malley has effortlessly created a sense of nostalgia with this beautiful tribute to the late Cilla Black, and true to her promise, I might just need to go dust off a few records for an hour or two.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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