Song of Singapore | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Song of Singapore 

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Song of Singapore, Piper's Alley.

Borrowing most of its plot elements from the 1947 Ava Gardner movie Singapore--including the setting, an amnesiac heroine, stolen jewels, a slimy cop, and the imminent threat of Japanese invasion--this piece of fluff aims to combine concept musicals like Pump Boys and Dinettes and Nunsense (whose gimmick is the characters' quirky or nonexistent talent) with audience-participation shows like Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding, and ends up as funny as none of them. Set on the eve of Pearl Harbor in an Asian nightclub complete with palm trees, bamboo curtains, a three-course dinner, and umbrella drinks, Song of Singapore invites viewers to dine, drink, and dance--to be part of the action, which concerns a Euro-American jazz band stranded in this city on the brink of war.

The food is just passable but the service is good. Similarly, the lame material here is almost redeemed by the actor-musicians, who jive their way through a set of 40s song parodies. The playing and singing under Malcolm Ruhl's musical direction are strong, but the lyrics and dialogue are older than World War II and a lot less worth remembering--it's as if the writers (a committee headed by sitcom veteran Allan Katz) thought the gimmick was so funny it would sell itself. It doesn't.

Among the better performers: New York import Lisa Albright, a technically impeccable singer, as the clueless Rose of Rangoon; Christopher Walz as blind British bandleader Freddy S. Lyme; Paul Carlin as Hans van der Last, a trumpeter who regales us with Haarlem blues; Paul Slade Smith, a music-hall clown as the town's top cop; and Sonya Seng as Chah Li, a fan-brandishing "dragon lady" who makes fun of the "round eyes" because they fear the Japanese army. Tell it to the Asian women drafted as imperial sex slaves.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Mitchell Canoff.

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