Jeanette Aw "working on flaws" for musical debut

“I am prepared for comments or criticism, but I think that’s part and parcel of being a performer.”

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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.

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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.)

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