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Forget the plot, let's just party

Beauty World's cast are fun to watch when they are not held back by tired storytelling

Beauty World, the home-grown musical of a girl searching for her father in a cabaret is 42nd Street meets Miss Saigon with a "Who's your daddy?" twist.

The Dick Lee-Michael Chiang collaboration was written in the 1980s and in this day and age when musical theatre has become less untrammelled and more nuanced, elements of Beauty World feel dated, especially when it seeks to fit into the mould of American musicals that were popular back when this show was conceived.

Main character Ivy (a sweetly lilting Cheryl Tan, saddled with some unfortunate wigs) and her love interests are strait-jacketed into a plot that methodically ticks off a series of "ingenue musical" boxes.

  • REVIEW / MUSICAL

  • BEAUTY WORLD

    Victoria Theatre/Last Saturday

Ivy will, of course, join the cabaret, succeed at it while retaining her girlish purity and be endearing to the characters that matter and alluring to cabaret patrons despite being about as compelling as cardboard.

Watching the inevitable love story unfold between her and boy-from- the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks Ah Hock (Timothy Wan) - who somewhat incongruously for an Ah Beng burst out into a series of lovelorn, awkwardly rhymed ballads - was as interesting as watching paint dry.

  • BOOK IT/BEAUTY WORLD

  • WHERE: Victoria Theatre

    WHEN: Till Dec 12, 8pm (Tuesday to Sunday) and 3pm (weekend)

    ADMISSION: From $38 (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

So what does work about Beauty World? Everything else. When it pendulums into local territory with Singlish banter, colloquialisms and archetypes from Ah Lians to aunties, it is a snappy, fun affair.

The rest of the cast, not burdened with having to play out a formulaic plot in earnest, were a delight to watch. Whether slickly executing choreography or merely acting as fauna to the angst of the lead characters, every one of them looked like they were having fun. The three bitchy cabaret girls played by Ethel Yap, Cynthia Lee MacQuarrie and Tay Kewei were a riot as they hammed it up, delivering each line with fiendish glee.

Jeanette Aw, however, never seemed comfortable in the role of cabaret star Lulu. Effort radiated from her like the light that bounced off her sequin-encrusted cheongsams, but the forked tongue of her serpentine temptress never pierced.

Her reedy speak-singing was in stark contrast to the powerhouse Frances Lee, who played Ivy's friend Rosemary. Lee's every pore oozed moxie in a memorable duet with Aw.

The performance of the night was delivered by Janice Koh as Mummy, the matriarchal head of the cabaret. Koh vacillated effortlessly from empress presiding over her cabaret kingdom - manipulative, sultry and formidable, a Chinese Cruella DeVil in monochromatic tones - to nagging, exasperated mother trying to manage her unruly brood of girls. Her comic timing was faultless; a quip about foreign talent as she contemplated hiring the Malaysian- born Ivy sent ripples of laughter through the audience.

At the end of the musical, when Ivy must decide whether to stay or go, the audience is supposed to believe Beauty World is a cynical, jaded place, the fun masking many crushed dreams. But it is such an entertaining foil to Ivy's tired storyline that you just want her to make up her mind so we can get back to the party.

This is an age where musicals triumph on boldness and originality and Beauty World would have been ahead of its time if it embraced its Singaporean-ness wholeheartedly instead of seeking assurance in the oft-retreaded lullabies of Broadway.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2015, with the headline 'Forget the plot, let's just party'. Print Edition | Subscribe