Dick Lee on Jeanette Aw as Lulu: I’ve never seen anyone work so hard

We knew she was a not a singer, but we wanted her for all her other qualities, Beauty World director says

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Photos: Madame Tussauds Singapore, Dick Lee (@friedriceparadise) and Jeanette Aw (@jeanetteaw_xuan) via Instagram, Zara Zhuang
Video: Tay Yixuan

Homegrown musician, composer and creative director Dick Lee has few misgivings about casting TV actress Jeanette Aw, 36, as the vindictive cabaret queen bee Lulu in the latest production of his musical Beauty World, despite the less-than-stellar reviews of the actress’s vocal abilities.

“To be fair to Jeanette, we knew she was a not a singer when she came on board, but we wanted her for all her other qualities,” the 59-year-old said.

Songs in Beauty World, now playing at the Victoria Theatre, were reworked to put Jeanette’s Lulu more in character. “I think [Jeanette] has done a really good job of it,” Dick added. “It’s not her strength, yes, and I think she knew that — we knew that — but she wanted to really try and work at it.”

“We did approach her (with the role of Lulu), but we thought no way would we get an actor of that calibre, but she managed to carve some time for us,” he said. “And I’ve never seen anyone work so hard.”

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Directing for the first time the musical he co-wrote with playwright Michael Chiang about the seedy cabaret scene in 1960s Singapore, Dick said the fifth incarnation of Beauty World was true to his vision — when Dick took up the reins of the musical, he intended to give the production a darker, more realistic touch, having watched it since 1988 directed by different people. “[Beauty World] was written as a fantasy but set in a very real situation and a dangerous time,” he said, adding that some of the songs had been tweaked to reflect the era.

While the multi-talented musician didn’t name his favourite Lulu from over the decades, he did profess a soft spot for the first cast, which included Jacintha Abisheganaden, Margaret Chan, Lim Kay Siu, Claire Wong, Tan Kheng Hua and Christina Ong as the femme fatale cabaret star.

“I have wonderful memories of that production, but that style would not work today,” Dick said. “So I would say every cast we’ve had was actually appropriate for the era.”

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