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Theatre Review (Singapore): ‘Tropicana’ by Haresh Sharma and Spare Room Productions

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Spare Room Productions’ first musical, Tropicana, will run at the Capitol Theatre from April 13th – 30th 2017.

An original production, written by Haresh Sharma, directed by Beatrice Chia-Richmond, and produced by Tan Kheng Hua, Tropicana spins a tale about the lives of the performers and staff of a club in the 1960s. Tropicana, the most popular club in Southeast Asia, invites the region’s well-heeled to its shows, some of which feature topless girls. But more dramatic are the people behind the glitzy headdresses, the scanty costumes, and the smiles behind the people who run the club and service the patrons. Tropicana is their story.

The musical is elegantly and cleverly directed by Chia-Richmond, who’s no stranger to invigorating a stage with innovative direction. In this production, she uses various backdrops and sounds to help the audience imagine scenes even when the props are minimal. In one scene, as Frank Sinatra (Mitchell Lagos) performs, a fight takes place nearby, depicted via animated visuals on the backdrop. In another scene, a makeshift car appears on stage with the backdrop showcasing the streetlights as one would see them from a passing car.

However, Sharma’s story lacks lustre or excitement, and the individual plots aren’t captivating enough. Also, his heavy-handed exposition bogs down the dialogue, making the lines uninspired, contrived, and preachy in places.

The songs also don’t have much punch, as Julian Wong’s melodies aren’t catchy or memorable (aside from the rock-influenced I Swear on Ganja) and it is difficult to remember any of the songs later. The singing is good, though, especially Lagos who’s pretty seasoned in musical theatre (he last appeared in Rent earlier this year).

Although Siti Khalijah has a sweet singing voice which is fully utilized here, she tends to employ a staccato delivery of her spoken lines, which works in comedy to great effect, but doesn’t work all the time. Her usual robotic way of overly-accentuating each word makes her verbal expressions seem very forced and unnatural. She should employ a more fluid, convincing, and genuine way of speaking for her character’s non-comedic moments.

Sharda Harrison and Ebi Shankara take on multiple roles, and both shine in their disparate characters – especially Harrison’s governmental officer who comes to assess a topless show, and Shankara’s drug-taking police officer who comes to check on the club.

Audrey Luo also stands out as a bar owner who faces personal and professional upheavals, as her character goes from running a successful entertainment spot to barely surviving due to the government crackdown on entertainment in the 1960s – and on top of that she has to contend with a less-than-committed lover on the side.

So in essence, whilst Tropicana isn’t perfect and its script and music could use some serious tweaking, the set and costumes reflect the time period immaculately, the direction is creative, the singing is not bad and there are certainly moments of humour. Anyway, who said the ’60s were perfect, after all?

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About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.