AFTER coming through ten rounds of auditions, culminating in a final four sing-off at The Cavern in Liverpool, Kara Lily Hayworth landed the lead role of Cilla Black in Cilla, The Musical.

In doing so, she beat thousands of hopefuls from weeks of auditioning up and down the country to star in a show written by the BAFTA award-winning Jeff Pope, who made the original ITV mini-series Cilla featuring Sheridan Smith.

Cilla, The Musical tells the extraordinary, heart-warming story of the ordinary girl from Liverpool whose teenage dreams of stardom lead her to becoming one of Britain’s best-loved entertainers after a young John Lennon introduces one Priscilla White to music mogul Brian Epstein, changing her life forever. Number one hits, Blind Date and Surprise, Surprise all follow.

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Kara Lily Hayworth in Cilla mode. Picture: Jono Symonds

The world premiere opened at the Liverpool Empire last September and Kara is now on tour, playing Cilla at the Grand Opera House from Tuesday to Saturday in her first appearance on a York stage.

"Knowing that it's an open call, you never think you'd get the part, so it's a remarkable feeling," says Kara, "They had hopefuls from all over the country, and I think I went to London ten times, through July and August, and the final big audition was at The Cavern in Liverpool with four of us singing with an audience in there."

The Cavern sing-off was filmed by ITV with coverage on This Morning, and Kara duly landed the role of Cilla after a lorra, lorra auditions. "The decision was taken by Bill Kenwright [the show's producer and co-director with Bob Tomson], Robert Willis [Cilla's son, the executive producer] and Jeff Pope, who wrote the script, so it's a great honour. Sheridan [Smith] was incredible in the TV series and now I'm the first 'Cilla' on stage, which feels amazing. I feel so lucky."

York Press:

Kara Lily Hayworth: beat thousands of hopefuls to play Cilla

Kara grew up in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, and now lives in Watford, Hertfordshire, but Cilla's home city of Liverpool has played its part in her burgeoning stage career. "I performed at the Liverpool Empire when I was11, when I was in Annie, which I did with Paul O'Grady as Miss Hannigan. He was a really good friend of Cilla and came to our Cilla press night in Liverpool," she says. "I played Annie, so it's only taken almost 20 years to play another redhead in Cilla. Maybe I'll do another one when I'm 50!"

Kara, who turns 30 next month, is not performing a copycat impression of cheeky Scouser Cilla. "The directors never wanted an impersonation of Cilla," she says. "It's all about capturing her spirit, so I have little hints of her, rather than doing a Stars In Their Eyes version, so I wouldn't say it's a copy."

Kara performs 18 numbers in the show, such as the first half's climactic Anyone Who Had A Heart, Alfie – "I love that song," she says – and the big finale of Step Inside Love, written by Beatle Paul McCartney, no less.

While Dionne Warwick may have been disparaging about Cilla's chart-topping version of her 1963 American hit Anyone Who Had A Heart – Warwick's original reached only number 42 over here – Kara begs to differ. "Cilla had an impressive range; she could sing anything," she counters.

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The cast of Cilla, The Musical in action with Kara Lily Hayworth's Cilla centre stage

That said, she was familiar with Cilla from her television shows rather than her hit songs. "Watching Blind Date was part of my childhood. I always watched it at my nan's house on Saturdays – and Surprise, Surprise too – but I didn't know about her music at that time," says Kara.

"What I love about Cilla is that she was so personable. She came from a rough background, growing up in 'Scottie' Road in Liverpool, working as a hat-check girl at The Cavern, and then being 'discovered'. It's a really beautiful story, even if you didn't know it was true. People loved her because she was so natural on TV; she said what she thought and had no front."

Cilla, The Musical runs at Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday to Saturday, January 23 to 27, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday matinees. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at