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Panto: Cinderella's got the magic

Is it worth going to Cilla's £1 million ball at the Liverpool Empire? Oh yes (it is), says Angie Sammons

Written by . Published on December 17th 2008.


Panto: Cinderella's got the magic

EXPLAINING Cilla Black to a seven-year-old, who is about to spend three hours of his young life in her company, is harder than it sounds.

She was a friend of the Beatles (eyebrows raised). She was a big star in the sixties (looks blankly). And in the seventies too (means nothing). Then she had this television show called Blind Date (forget Surprise Surprise, this is complicated enough already) where she got people - men, and ladies - to, well, go out for the night. Together....”

Silence.

“It was on when the X-Factor is now, on a Saturday night,” I struggle, “and everybody watched it. Everybody.”

“Even you?” he exclaims.

On the face of it, the Cavern-cloakroom-girl-made-good may have received a big, fat, magic wad in order to wave a big, fat, magic wand but, quite simply, it would not be the same without her

Cheryl Cole might be “the now”, the light entertainment diva of 2008, but watching Cilla Black at the Liverpool Empire this week you are reminded that here is a performer possessing the X Factor in spadefuls. Except in the intervening years since she appeared live, on stage, anywhere, it's been bottled, marketed and given a name.

So where Ringo might have misplaced his head, and Macca the occasional top note, the well-rested Priscilla White has hung on to all the weapons in an armoury – comedienne, singer, personality - that made her the most successful female TV star in history: the grand dame of Liverpool exports, and, at the minute, the grand pantomime dame.

For, as the Godmother in the pay-per-view finale to Capital of Culture year, she is the fairy at the top of the 2008 Christmas tree in Cinderella, and you don't need to know any back story to be impressed by the result in this witty, clever and fast paced panto.

On the face of it, the Cavern-cloakroom-girl-made-good may have received a big, fat, magic wad in order to wave a big, fat, magic wand but, quite simply, it would not be the same without her.

So is she the only star shining in this record breaking show that cost £1 million to stage? Happily, not quite.

Les Dennis, Jennifer Ellison, Ted Robbins, Pete Price and Roy Brandon reclaim the much-maligned term professional Scouser, giving it its dignity back in old school, showbiz style.

Even all the songs are home grown and local, from Something Tells Me Something (not a note off from the original) and You're My World, to several Beatles tunes and the unexpected winner in the royalties hit parade for 08, You Spin Me Round.

Cinders' familiar rags to riches tale is presented with a new city of culture setting, with script and the ad libbing so

tightly interwoven that it's hard to tell one from the other – no irony intended, by the way.

John Bishop's direction makes the whole thing look flawless, and it all rattles along nicely from Cilla's breathtaking entrance (wehheyyy, as Ted Robbins' Baron Hardup might say) to the glittering, ermine-and-pearls finale.

And obviously there's a Scouse wedding.

The multi-talented Les Dennis is a splendid Buttons, going back to his roots as a fine impressionist and all round performer, holding the whole marathon together with routine after energetic routine.

Particularly memorable is the 12 Days of Christmas sketch, with Hollyoaks' Nick Pickard providing plenty of teenage audience kicks as Dandini as he runs around the stalls endlessly chasing “Five Toilet Rolls....” (and impressively managing to lasso them back around the onstage Dennis's neck, several times) and veteran TV warm-up man Robbins, now of kids' TV favourite The Slammer.

Pete Price and Roy Brandon are in their excellent element as Ugly Sisters Whitney and Britney who were born to be booed. Jennifer Ellison sings and dances like a doll fulfilling every little girl's vision of Cinders.

Prince Charming, meanwhile, LIPA graduate Stephen Fletcher who was last seen in the Eric's musical at the Everyman, hasn't stopped working in the theatre in 08. Perhaps as a result, his confidence, among this roster of what might otherwise be intimidating names, is buoyant.

Cilla does reprise Blind Date in the second half, when things might otherwise be starting to flag, and Hardup is given a choice between the awful Shiraz and Chardonnay (Brandon and Price) and Mavis Riley (Dennis) who has the adults in stitches.

But even though some of the jokes have been around the block as many times as the actors, there is plenty for the kids to love too, and, as a variety spectacle for every age this is unbeatable, a London Palladium panto for Liverpool.

So a fairytale ending, at least in the literal sense, as the curtain falls on 2008. For as any polished performer knows, timing is everything, and this is a Christmas cracker delivery of a punchline.

Will it be the start of a whole new career for Cilla? For Dennis?
As Mavis Riley might say: “I don't really kno-o-o-ow...”

Go and get a ticket now. Before they all go.

9/10

*Cinderella, Liverpool Empire, Lime Street, Liverpool 1, until January 4. 0844 847 2525.

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6 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Pantomime WhoresDecember 17th 2008.

Magnificent review. For the first time in my life, I feel like going to the panto

Pandas dadDecember 17th 2008.

Cilla. Les Dennis, and Ted Robbins! What could be better?The cream of Liverpools top talent and some of the funniest people the UK has ever produced.Why are these greats ignored by the BBC? It is time to give them the multimillion pound specials that they deserve. It would make great viewing to raise dosh for Kids in Need.Hopefully the beautiful Cilla will record this for Xmas and bring some beauty to the lives of millions of starving children.

MichaelDecember 17th 2008.

Good article and very correct. Les Dennis is the star of the show. It's worth going to see.

cinderellafanDecember 17th 2008.

CINDERELLA....was THE best panto I have ever seen...me and my mates went twice in 2 days...Want to see it again and believe you and me we would...9/10 how stupid more like a 1000000 out of 10.

W. TwankyDecember 17th 2008.

Cilla doesn't have to work much for her million, unlike the rest of the cast! I enjoyed it.

DigDecember 17th 2008.

What! No Bob Carolgees and Spit The Dog? Me and my mates have a good mind to ask for a full refund now. I'm so disappointed.

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