KPBS AIRDATE: February 17, 1993
The city of Singapore makes you think ‘rice.’ “The Song of Singapore” makes you think ‘corn.’ And the West Coast premiere of this spoofy musical, at the Theatre in Old Town, really milks the corn, to mix a metaphor.
The setting is a seedy waterfront cafe, 1941. There’s a cast of stock characters: the blind musician, the sexy lounge singer, the New York wiseguy, the Chinese cat-woman, the crooked cop. All are appropriately over-acted by an ensemble of Old Town regulars and a few new faces. We get murder, mayhem, a jewel heist and incredibly ingenuous intrigue.
There are three standouts in the production: two good, one annoying and politically incorrect. In that minus column is the role of the sinister Chinese woman, played by Laura Lamun with one of those phony-baloney Asian accents that makes you cringe. It’s insensitive, unnecessary and positively ludicrous when she calls the white folks “lound eyes” and sings lyrics which include her “Harreruyah” chorus. Yecchh.
On the plus side, the most noteworthy contribution is Steve Anthony. He’s the kind of talent you never tire of watching. His cuteness and charisma, his lithe, agile moves, his fabulous dancing, his ability to make goofball humor work like crazy — he’s one of the best things to hit San Diego in a long time. He could monopolize any stage for almost any amount of time and keep me entertained.
Speaking of good entertainment, there’s the onstage band in “Song of Singapore,” which is nothing short of terrific. They’re not backgrounded, either. Each of the six talented guys gets some lines, and a fair amount of solo time, too. As bandleader and club owner, Kelvin Helmeid is a fine musician but not believably blind. Well, in a play where Amelia Earhart makes a second act appearance, it’s not like we’re expecting a heavy dose of realism.
However, director Paula Kalustian has gone out of her way to make the audience feel like they’re part of the scene, sitting in a seedy Singapore club; audience members are pulled into the action and dancing onstage, they are served hors d’oeuvres of sort, and they’re talked to by cast members. It’s all good fun, if you can suspend disbelief, enjoy some cute songs, really good and varied music — from big band to Hawaiian, jazz to ballads to blues — surrounded by goofy laugh lines and lyrics, like “Even the Mona Lisa has got to have a visa.” The singing is more than competent, the harmonies are wonderful, the energy is high, and Jill Anthony’s choreography is often inspired, always imaginative.
The Theatre in Old Town is committed to little musicals and revues. And they do them very very well. San Diego seems to love this ultra-light fare. So it’s a match made in heaven. Or maybe in Singapore.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1993 Patté Productions Inc.