BEAUTY WORLD by Dick Lee and Michael Chiang

“Still Beautiful”

Reviewer: Andre Joseph Theng
Performance: 14 November 2015

Not quite the same as the earlier productions but Beauty World is still as enduring and endearing as ever.

It is 2015 (although it is still 1965 in Beauty World) and Dick’s Lee vision for the latest production of Beauty World is one of a ‘has-been’ place, dated and irrelevant. Still, some things never change – the characters, and the music (with the exception of two songs omitted from the 2008 production). First staged in 1988, the musical has indeed aged well and remains no less relevant today. It follows the story of Ivy Chan (played by Cheryl Tan), an orphan who comes from Batu Pahat, Johor in search of her father. Her only clue to her parentage is a jade pendant left behind with her when she was abandoned, which was engraved “Beauty World”. She leaves her boyfriend Franky Wong (Joshua Lim) behind and travels to Singapore where she joins the cabaret in search of answers. In the process, she finds herself plunged into a new world, and falls in love with Ah Hock (Timothy Wan), an employee at Beauty World.

Despite publicity material promising a ‘darker’ Beauty World, this iteration does not detract much from earlier productions. Cheryl Tan, a Malaysian herself, especially shines as Ivy and brings new life to the innocence of her characters. Ditto Frances Lee as Rosemary, and one can add Timothy Wan’s Ah Hock to the list of sterling performances. However, Jeanette Aw’s Lulu is less convincing, as her attempts to portray a sultry “number 1 cabaret girl” came at the expense of being able to hear her relatively weak singing.

While the 2008 production featured a grand finale of flames being combined to form a bigger one, the understated nature of this production means that it ends rather abruptly. The Wong Chee Wai set features some nice details, especially an inverted Beauty World sign facing outside, as if the audience is looking at a cross-section of the cabaret. Overall, there is little to complain about what really is a competent if not ground-breaking production of a familiar script.

To me, there is no other Singapore musical anywhere as successful, memorable and distinctive as Beauty World. Simple as the story is, it brings out universal values of small-town girl moving to a big city, a search for identity and of finding love. Having found her answers, Ivy eventually returns to Batu Pahat. For her, Beauty World is a place of transience, a departure from her “normal” life, a temporary state of being. Yet her character, and Beauty World, is permanently etched onto the history of Singapore theatre, a musical we can be proud of.

Those who have watched it previously may not find any reason to catch this production other than relieving good memories of watching the earlier productions. But I hope that this production reaches out to new audiences who have yet to discover the world of Beauty World, and so if you have never previously watched it on stage, this is a must-see piece of Singapore culture.

I do have a minor complaint though, and that is of the expensive programmes and CDs. While of course no one is forced to buy either, other theatre groups such as W!ld Rice and Pangdemonium have established a commendable precedent of offering programmes for a nominal fee (a donation). These are high-quality and glossy programmes with good content and make for a nice souvenir of production. While Broadway musicals showing at Marina Bay Sands charge upwards of $20 for a programme, I find that reasonably-priced programmes (up to $5) go some way to encouraging audiences to local theatre productions, who should not feel that they are being fleeced on a night out to the theatre.


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BEAUTY WORLD by Dick Lee and Michael Chiang
13 November – 12 December 2015
Victoria Theatre


Andre Joseph Theng is passionate about the intricacies of language, and reviewing allows him to combine his love for both theatre and writing.