Young, wild and free in 1960s

Inspired by Singapore’s first nightclub, Tropicana stars Siti Khalijah Zainal and Rizman Putra.
Inspired by Singapore’s first nightclub, Tropicana stars Siti Khalijah Zainal and Rizman Putra.PHOTO: CRISPIAN CHAN

After news broke in October about an upcoming musical inspired by the topless cabaret, Tropicana, producer Tan Kheng Hua received numerous phone calls and e-mail messages from the now-defunct nightclub's former staff and associates.

Among them is a woman who had a teacher's training certificate, but had chosen to be a Tropicana showgirl. She was as attracted by the cachet as by the tips, says Tan.

The producer, who turns 54 this year, remembers Tropicana as a class act with heart and guts, comparable with Paris' Folies Bergere.

"It was a high-class restaurant- theatre, like the Folies Bergere.  It wasn't burlesque or striptease. It certainly wasn't Crazy Horse," she says, referring to the Clarke Quay cabaret which closed in 2007. "The opening act was a troupe of 14 Japanese dancers specially flown in." The group was called Les Folies Du Tropicana.

Tropicana was set up in 1968 as Singapore's first nightclub, in the space now occupied by Pacific Plaza in Scotts Road.

  • BOOK IT / TROPICANA THE MUSICAL

  • WHERE: Capitol Theatre, Capitol Piazza, 11 Stamford Road

    WHEN: April 13 to 30; 8pm (Tuesdays to Saturdays), 3pm (weekends)

    ADMISSION: $77 to $107 from Sistic

    INFO: www.tropicanathemusical.com. Rating to be confirmed, recommended for aged 18 and older.

 
 
 

It drew big names such as singers Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington and Count Basie. It attracted full houses for years until competition came from risque acts at places such as Neptune Theatre Restaurant (Collyer Quay). It shut down in 1989 and the building was later demolished.

Yet it meant so much to its musicians, waiters, cashiers and cabaret showstoppers that the former staff still meet every Chinese New Year for a reunion dinner. The most recent gathering was held last week.

The musical, set in 1968, opens in April at the Capitol Theatre. It follows the faces behind the footlights. The cast includes Brendon Fernandez as an entertainer; Seong Hui Xuan and Sharda Harrison as showgirls; Mitch Lagos as the cabaret's host; and Siti Khalijah Zainal as a cashier. Also on the line- up are Lim Yu-Beng, Rizman Putra, Ebi Shankara and Karen Tan.

Cultural Medallion recipient Haresh Sharma penned the book, Beatrice Chia-Richmond directs and the lyrics are by playwright Joel Tan, who worked on the wellreceived Wild Rice pantomime The Emperor's New Clothes (2015). The music is by Julian Wong, who worked on The Theatre Practice's rock spectacular, Liao Zhai Rocks!, and Toy Factory Productions' memorable December Rains.

Tan Kheng Hua says the musical is a homage to the 1960s, a heady time for Singapore.

"It was a very unusual time for us, when the music and entertainment scene was flourishing, when local bands were outselling The Beatles, people were setting up businesses and were willing to throw themselves and their lives into making their dreams come true.

"I believe that was a time when we were truly young and wild and free."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 07, 2017, with the headline 'Young, wild and free in 1960s'. Print Edition | Subscribe