Photos: Teo Sijia
Video: Vina Chia
Beauty world, cha cha cha! When that unforgettable theme song returns to the stage this November at the Victoria Theatre, new faces among the cast lineup will include Jeanette Aw, up till now better known for her roles in Channel 8 dramas, and stage veteran Janice Koh. Both will be making their debut in musical theatre through the iconic 27-year-old local production.
“I’m aware of what I can and can’t do,” Jeanette responded to questions on her vocal prowess. “I’m working on my flaws and what I need help on, so I hope I’ll improve by the time the show starts.”
At a media event presenting the new cast yesterday, Janice and Jeanette were joined by four other cast members in giving a preview of their vocal and theatrical abilities, with Cheryl Tan playing the protagonist Ivy Chan, Timothy Wan as the cabaret’s Ah Hock who falls for Ivy, Joshua Lim as Ivy’s country sweetheart Frankie, and Frances Lee as Ivy’s penpal Rosemary. Accompanied on the keyboard by music director Indra Ismail (brother of late Cultural Medallion winner Iskandar Ismail), the main cast belted, sashayed and charmed their way into our hearts.
The fifth production of Beauty World promises to be a darker, grittier and more realistic interpretation of cabaret in 1960s Singapore compared with versions past, said its composer and co-writer, Dick Lee. “It’s a faded, jaded, old place with girls that are tired,” he explained. “They’re mean and vicious, and when Ivy comes in it’s like walking into the gates of hell, very scary, and I wanted the place to be intimidating.” Dick is bringing his vision of the musical to life for the first time as its director.
Michael Chiang, the musical’s playwright, added: “We’re trying to give Beauty World less of an amusement park, Disneyland kind of feeling. … Back in the 60s if a young girl that age goes into a cabaret populated by seedy and dirty old men, it should not be so welcoming.”
Despite their background and experience in theatre, Janice and Jeanette have had to undergo intense training in singing to prepare them for their roles as Mummy, the tough but loving mama-san, and Lulu, the vindictive cabaret star determined to destroy Ivy, respectively. Both actresses are being coached by John Lee, a member of local a cappella group Vocaluptuous and a certified singing instructor.
Given the recent criticism of Sharon Au’s singing role in the Lee Kuan Yew musical, would Jeanette be affected by judgment of her vocals? “I’m not a professional singer, so of course these are worries. I was really nervous just now!” she said. “But I think in terms of character portrayal and maybe even dance and choreography it would come in together with my singing, so I hope … I’ll be able to bring across a credible performance.”
“I am prepared for comments or criticism,” she added, “but I think that’s part and parcel of being a performer.”
(Coincidentally, Sharon Au played Lulu opposite Evelyn Tan’s Ivy in the version presented at the President’s Star Charity 1998, one of the best known stagings of the musical.)
A long-awaited part in a stage production means Jeanette has come full circle. “I’ve always been looking forward to going back to where I came from,” said the actress, who graduated from theatre studies at the National University of Singapore. “I still remember when I did my first TV drama everyone said I was too theatrical, so it took a lot of time to adjust …. And now it’s going back to theatre.”
Getting into the role of Lulu even helped Jeanette retain her wits while filming The Dream Makers 2, the actress revealed. “The character I’m playing now, Zhao Fei’er, suffers from depression. so Lulu helped me jump out, escape, take a breather and live in someone else’s body for a while,” she explained. And though Lulu’s no angel, playing the bad guy — or gal — in Beauty World was a breeze with the strong script and characterisation, she added.
The role of Mummy drew Janice in with its complexity and drama, she said, as a character tough enough to run a cabaret and yet maternal in how she looks after her girls. Though with a chuckle Janice admitted that part of her reason for signing up as Mummy was because she wouldn’t have to sing very much. “If I had a solo [singing] part I would have turned it down,” she said. “I know my limitations.”
In her first foray into musical theatre after more than 20 years in dramatic acting, Janice considered emoting through song and dance a major difference between the two styles, but the enthusiastic actress wouldn’t let that hinder her. “I’m hoping to have fun and learn new things,” she said. “I guess it’s never too late, I’m the role model for continuing education.”
“If I did one musical before I die, let it be Beauty World, it would have to be Beauty World.”
Date: Friday, November 13 – Saturday, December 12, 2015
Venue: Victoria Theatre
Time: Tuesday–Friday 8PM, Saturday 3PM and 8PM, Sunday 3PM
Ticket Prices: From S$28 *Excludes booking fee
Tickets are now available on SISTIC.