An author of two books. A lover and maker of art. A recipient of too many television awards to count. One of MediaCorp’s seven princesses. Of all the things Jeanette Aw is, a singer is not one of them.
The actress, best known for her lead role in The Little Nyonya, returns to the stage after six years (her last theatre show was MediaCorp VizPro’s The Peranakan Ball) to portray malicious cabaret queen Lulu in a re-staging of local musical Beauty World. Debuted in 1988, it’s a classic theatre piece with Dick Lee (also making his directorial debut) and Michael Chiang as the brains behind the production.
It tells the story of how an innocent girl, Ivy Chan, from Batu Pahat found herself in a dodgy nightclub in Singapore, in an effort to uncover the identity of her biological father who had left her a Beauty World jade pendant as an infant. Not only does she find herself a job in the cabaret, but also a few new enemies, as well as unlikely allies. Joining Jeanette in the cast are Janice Koh, Cheryl Tan, Frances Lee, Timothy Wan, and Joshua Lim.
When Jeanette struts onto the stage, it becomes clear why she was chosen for the role of the main antagonist. Without a single word spoken, she exuded an air of sultry wickedness. After all, they say only nice girls can play bad bitches. It’s thus regrettable to say that she was found wanting in the vocal department.
During her first solo number, instead of commanding the stage, it felt as though she had been abandoned by the cast. You see her struggling to keep in tune, and it’s hard not to feel bad for her. While Jeanette was able to hit the notes, she sounded flat the whole time and overcompensated by sing-talking most of her words – a flimsy attempt at covering up her weak vocals.
She probably had trouble with projection as well, made apparent by the increased volume of her microphone when she sings. If only this weren’t a musical, Jeanette would be absolutely perfect for the role.
Thankfully, the show’s merits outweighed its flaws. The mark of a great musical is indelible songs, and Beauty World has it. They are, dare I say (because we’re soon approaching the year-end holiday), on par with such classics as All I Want For Christmas Is You.
What also makes this re-staging worth a watch is the brilliant cast, and in particular, Frances Lee and Malaysian thespian Cheryl Tan. The former plays a seamstress and pen pal of Ivy (portrayed by the latter) who helps her with her father-finding mission. Hilarious and vocally formidable, Frances brought a whole lot of sass to her character. Juxtaposing the richness of Frances’ pipes is Cheryl’s dulcet tones that complement the all-around innocence of her character.
Amid dazzling cheongsams and enchanting entertainment, Beauty World delves into the underbelly of retro cabarets, where the glitz and glamour fade away. You don’t have to actually have been in Singapore in the 60s to feel a sense of nostalgia whilst watching this dramatic, extravagant and a little bit comic musical.
Date: Now till 12 December 2015
Venue: Victoria Theatre
Admission: $38 – $128
Get your tickets here.
Photo credits: Alfred Phang