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.”
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.”
He explained how the production had evolved over the years to suit different needs and styles, from adding large-scale dance numbers to fill the stage for the 20th anniversary production at the Esplanade Theatre to focusing on the love story throughline for this year’s incarnation.
Having returned this year to an intimate venue like the 1988 version of Beauty World, “we’re working more on the drama of the story, so the actors now lend a whole different feel to this production,” Dick said.
It’s been a good year for the singer–songwriter: He finally took charge of his musical creation and also edged past the likes of S R Nathan, Tanya Chua, Christopher Lee and Fann Wong to be named Singapore’s most popular icon of the year, following a campaign run by Madame Tussauds Singapore in January.
“When I heard the news, I was actually at a dinner for my father’s 93rd birthday,” Dick said of the moment he found out he had been voted Singapore’s favourite celebrity. “When my manager called me, I thought she was talking nonsense.”
Dick was at Madame Tussauds Singapore yesterday to unveil his wax figure, which took a team of 20 artists four months to create, and involved two sessions of measurements and customisation, done in Singapore and London in March and September, respectively.
The life-sized wax figure was dressed in a suit, shoes and accessories Dick personally donated, and though its remarkable likeness felt slightly bizarre to him, “it’s quite impressive and beautifully done, a great honour for me and a wonderful SG50 present,” he said.