GREAT WORLD CABARET
Resorts World Theatre/Tuesday
So far, a major part of SG50 has involved celebrating everything Singapore has destroyed in its march of progress, from kampung living to our home-grown rock music scene.
Great World Cabaret strives to recreate the thrill of the now-demolished Great World Amusement Park's variety shows.
The result is a mixed bag. This reviewer's favourite scene features a medley of Mandarin and Malay songs performed by striptease star Rose Chan (Seong Hui Xuan), keroncong queen Kartina Dahari (Aisyah Aziz) and a-go-go queen Sakura Teng (Joanna Dong).
The nostalgic strains of Rose, Rose, I Love You and Bunga Melur, combined with dazzling costumes and mass dances, have the audience clapping.
Also laudable are the gymnastic feats of the Qing Dao Acrobatic Troupe and the Drunken Sailors - though it is a stretch to believe the latter are merely sailors on shore leave. The magic show by J.C. Sum is pedestrian, but works well as a tribute to the cabaret's old magic acts.
Yet the production often misses the mark. Consider how the score is dominated by English-language songs - a rarity in the cabaret - while only one Malay song and no dialect songs are featured. Baby boomers are bound to find this inauthentic.
The framing story also disappoints.
Its premise is decent - an old security guard, Simon Tay (Shane Mardjuki) closes an exhibition about Great World and is transported to the days of his youth, when he was the cabaret host. But Mardjuki is stilted in his Singlish, unconvincing as a grumpy senior and quite lacking the charm and cheekiness that make for a lovable emcee.
Between scenes, when he describes his growing relationship with a taxi girl, the audience members find themselves barely invested in his romance.
The show's real star is Mark Lee, who brings down the house with his ribald, Hokkien-infused, stand-up comedy.
He plays Valentiko, a gangster- turned-laundryman whose tales of taxi girls' smelly underwear gives a sense of the amusement park's rambunctious spirit. He is, however, a guest performer. In the coming weeks, Hossan Leong, Sebastian Tan, then Judee Tan, will take his place. Can they fill his shoes?
Great World Cabaret is, by and large, an entertaining show. Still, one expects better things from a Dream Academy production, especially one directed by Selena Tan and scripted by Alfian Sa'at.
When the curtain falls, one remains unconvinced that the good old days truly were all that "great".
This article was first published on Feb 19, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.