Beauty World revival gets darker

Cast and creatives behind the 2015 revival of the musical Beauty World: (front row, from left), Michael Chiang (playwright) and Dick Lee (composer); (back row from left) Cheryl Tan, Timothy Wan, Jeanette Aw Janice Koh Joshua Lim and Frances Lee.
Cast and creatives behind the 2015 revival of the musical Beauty World: (front row, from left), Michael Chiang (playwright) and Dick Lee (composer); (back row from left) Cheryl Tan, Timothy Wan, Jeanette Aw Janice Koh Joshua Lim and Frances Lee. PHOTO: ALFRED PHANG
The original Beauty World was staged in 1988.
The original Beauty World was staged in 1988. PHOTO: STEVEN ZHU/THEATRE WORKS (S)

Hit 1988 musical returns to stage directed by Dick Lee, with Jeanette Aw in her stage debut and Janice Koh in her first musical

One of Singapore's most beloved musicals will cha-cha-cha its way back onto the stage in November, and, this time, it will be baring a darker underbelly.

While there are no changes to the plot and the screwball comedy will be kept intact, this revival of Beauty World will not be the "Disneyland" version it might have felt like in the past, says its playwright Michael Chiang, 59, who also wrote the 1987 hit Army Daze.

Beauty World, which premiered in 1988, is set in a seedy cabaret of 1960s Singapore, where the innocent and naive Ivy Chan arrives in search of her long-lost father. She ends up encountering a world of outlandish characters, including the cabaret's dominating It-girl, Lulu.

Composer Dick Lee, 59, who created the musical's hit music and lyrics, will be directing it for the first time in this seventh staging, which will run from Nov 13 to Dec 12 at the Victoria Theatre.

He said at the musical's press launch on Monday: "I wanted to make the cabaret more of a 'has-been' kind of place, a place that has had its day, but everyone in it is still living that image of being in a glamorous cabaret - but it's past that."


  • WHERE: Victoria Theatre
    WHEN: Nov 13 to Dec 12. Tuesday to Friday at 8pm, Saturday at3 and 8pm, Sunday at 3pm
    ADMISSION: $28to $128 from Sistic (excludes booking fee; call6348-5555 or go to

"I've asked everything to be aged," he adds of what he says will be "beautiful" sets created by experienced designer Wong Chee Wai.

The cast features a mix of up-and-coming and instantly recognisable faces.

Popular TV actress Jeanette Aw, 36, for instance, will be shedding her goody-two-shoes Little Nyonya image to play the musical's resident villain, the man-eating Lulu.

Aw, who majored in theatre studies at university, is "very excited" about her stage debut.

She tells Life: "I still remember my first TV drama - everyone was saying that I was 'very theatrical'. So it took some time for me to fine-tune and adjust to TV acting, and now it's like going back to where I came from."

She adds: "I enjoy the (theatre) rehearsals. In TV, it's really fast. We do a script read, we do blocking and then we go into shooting. I enjoy theatre because it's one full flow of actions and emotions. I enjoy the live performances. Every night is different because of the synergy you have with audiences."

Lee was pleasantly surprised by her audition and performance so far, which has revealed some hidden talents.

"I don't think anyone has seen her dance the way she's going to dance," he says with a grin.

"She came in and we all thought, 'Little Nyonya', but she really delivered the b**** in a really authentic way," he says with a laugh. "She was very believable, not over the top."

Aw has been taking singing lessons to strengthen her voice for her musical numbers and so has award- winning stage actress Janice Koh, even though she barely has any solos as Mummy, the matriarchal head of the cabaret.

Koh, 41, says with a laugh: "It's one of those things on my bucket list. If I have to do one musical, let it be Beauty World. If I can't sing, then let's have a part where I don't have to sing. I'm trying to be brave."

The musical also features a host of younger performers, mostly in their 20s.

The lead of Ivy Chan, a small- town girl from Batu Pahat, will be played by actress Cheryl Tan, 26, who is also from Malaysia.

Chiang saw her in Lee's musical Hotpants last year and says that "she glows with this innocence, which is what I wanted".

Recent Lasalle College of the Arts graduate Frances Lee, 24, plays Ivy's loopy penpal Rosemary Joseph - a role originated by vocal powerhouse Jacintha Abisheganaden. As it turns out, Abisheganaden gave Lee singing lessons when she was eight.

Fellow cast member Joshua Lim, who plays Ivy's nerdy boyfriend Frankie, points out: "You've completed the circle."

Chiang has also taken note of another full circle - parallels between the much-loved musical and Singapore's own journey to nationhood.

He says: "It's a search for identity - who's my father, who I am, I need to know who he was and where I came from - so I guess in that way it kind of echoes this whole SG50 message. It wasn't intentional, I just thought it might tie in quite nicely."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2015, with the headline 'Beauty World revival gets darker'. Print Edition | Subscribe