About Great World Cabaret
Before today’s young ‘uns were partying the night away at Zouk and Attica, there was the legendary “Flamingo Nite Club” at Great World: host to the hottest striptease acts and the snazziest beats in all of Malaya.
Without a doubt, the series of ‘worlds’ – Great World, Gay World, New World and Beauty World – have made an indelible mark on local culture, marking an iconic time of entertainment in 60s Singapore before the television arrived on our shores. In lieu of #SG50, it is only right for us to pay homage to these vestiges of Singapore’s havoc past – and there is no better way than to do it than by catching Resorts World Sentosa’s Great World Cabaret.
The joint production between Dream Academy and RWS features a star-studded rotating cast of headliners like Mark Lee, Sebastian Tan, Hossan Leong, and Judee Tan, as well as a main cast including Aisyah Aziz as the Malay pop singer Kartina Dahari, Seong Hui Xuan as Malaya’s greatest femme fatale Rose Chan and Joanna Dong as a-go-go queen Sakura Teng. It runs from 19 February – 17 March 2015, and promises a grand bonanza of glitz, glamour and glittering sequin dresses.
When I set foot into the theatre, the atmosphere was thick with a heady buzz of nostalgia and anticipation. At the media preview, a crowd of elderlies from community centres were in attendance on invite by RWS.
It touched me, watching them fill the arena – making me, as a 90s kid, feel as though I was actually sharing the experience with a crowd of people who could very well have concrete memories of checking out the taxi girls at Great World, or once caught a glimpse of Rose Chan herself in the flesh.
Before the seats were filled, the show had already started. Seeing as the story starts off in a museum setting, the stage was set up like one – as we, the crowd, were milling in, calefares paced around the set looking at various “historical” artefacts like typewriters, trishaws and a stunning Peranakan kebaya on display.
The choice to present such a set-up was thoroughly intriguing and immersive – so convincingly done that my companion almost stepped on stage to have a tour around the set herself! It set the tone for the evening and piqued my interest for the rest of the show.As the clock struck 8, the lights dimmed and the show officially kicked into gear. Shane Mardjuki, as Great World Cabaret’s emcee Simon Tay in his yesteryears, totters onstage with a balding head and boxy security uniform as an elderly museum officer, and begins by waxing lyrical about the grandeur of the Great World amusement parks in the days long gone while lampooning the irreverence of the young ‘uns thronging his museum.
Then, the haunting voice of an old taxi girl, Nancy Pereira, awakes – and he is transported back in time to the glitzy 60s and finds himself back on the glittering stage he once helmed.What ensued was a series of cabaret acts – ranging from a fire-breathing magician, gyrating taxi girls, to an entire troupe of Chinese acrobats from Qingdao – tumbling out on stage in rapid succession as one would imagine of an actual cabaret of the past.As expected, the musical acts were a standout. Covered head to toe in pops of colour and rows of glittery sequins, the taxi girls were a blast to watch, as they exuberantly grooved to the opening number, Let’s Bo Bo Cha Cha and offered back-up to the main trio. Rose Chan, Sakura Teng and Kartina Dahari each took a turn to blaze the stage in their medley of classics like Rose Rose I Love You, Shake Shake Shake and Bunga Melur.
Just don’t expect Rose to be stripping down to her birthday suit this time – the show is strictly PG. During Kartina’s segment, I actually caught an elderly makcik dancing animatedly in the front row!Despite being onstage for a mere 20 minutes, Mark Lee’s stand-up comedy stint as Valentiko stole the show. As the cabaret’s resident hum sup laundry guy, Lee was clad in a flashy bright yellow suit and a slicked-back Elvis-style pompadour any self-respecting ah beng would be proud of, as he whipped out advice on picking up girls and quips on Rose Chan’s undergarments in a smattering of English, Hokkien and Chinese with great aplomb.
I greatly appreciated how interactive he was with the audience – posing questions to us and then cheekily teasing an audience member for his unexpected response, in true blue Mark Lee fashion. By the end of his run, the crowd was left in stitches and wanting more.However, several acts in the line-up were a complete let-down; take for instance, the dismal segment presented by the Siglap Brothers – their song and dance number was rather muted and boring, and instantly forgettable. Equally puzzling were the Three Drunken Sailors. Their physical comedy involving jump stunts and somersaults started off slow, and felt like a filler act more than anything.
Lamentably, the segments were feebly stitched together with a weak storyline; as the show flitted between acts, we were fed with a rather unconvincing emotional arc charting the conflicted romance between star-crossed lovers Nancy and Simon. Perhaps it would have been wiser to do away with the filler acts, and allot more time to fleshing out their story. It came almost as a surprise to me to find out that the brains behind this production were the acclaimed Alfian Sa’at and Benjamin “Miyagi” Lee.
To their credit, the team behind this production successfully captured the very essence of Great World’s past grandeur and had, in fact, managed to conjure up a reimagination of those stages to an even greater scale. Although I appreciated the elaborate sets and its lavish sheen, I could not help but feel that the show was an empty, albeit polished, shell – a blown-up caricature rather than an authentic recreation of Singaporean cabaret’s glorious past.
In the closing scene, Simon reverts back to his frail, wizened form and makes a poignant remark as he reminisces about his marriage to Nancy. Climbing onto the trishaw, he rather wistfully mentions that, even after the buzzing crowds at the Great World had gone silent and the acts were long gone, in marriage, he continued to entertain his wife Nancy with songs, jokes and surprises – alluding to the notion that life is but one big cabaret show.
It was a real pity that the idea was not expounded upon more heavily. That would be a story I’d have loved to see.
This post was brought to you by Resorts World Sentosa. All photos are provided by RWS.