“Tropicana the Musical”
Reviewer: Myle Yan Tay
Performance: 19 April 2017
Musicals are not known for their subtlety, and Tropicana is no exception. The dialogue is on the nose and in your face; its message – direct. The plot moves rapidly, with characters laying out their entire personalities in single lines. The costumes are ornate, with a giant pair of women’s legs in stockings and heels rises and falls as the setting changes.
Tropicana is extremely ambitious, tackling both a former Singapore landmark and our more tumultuous decades. It is this massive scope that underpins the musical missing the mark. By attempting to cover so much material, much of the nuance is lost as we zoom from scene to scene. When the extremes of characters make sense, like in comedic bits, or when the characters are toned back during more intimate scenes, the musical shines.
But the script’s overbearing spoon-feeding remains a problem. It wants us to reflect on how Singapore’s past relates to our present and if we have changed. But it does not leave a mark on the audience’s minds because any food for thought has already been pre-digested by the writer, leaving the audience with little to ponder over.
The performers do put in a noteworthy effort, but the scale of the musical makes it difficult to connect with the audience. The dour end to one character’s journey lacks gravitas, as the audience’s is far too distracted to be invested. Some characters and relationships feel authentic and heartfelt, others formulaic or functional. Siti Khalijah and Joshua Lim’s budding romance and Ebi Shankara’s Muthu strike a chord because they are given room to breathe. Rizman Putra’s charismatic rebel rock-star, though played well, has little room to grow, making his sudden shift in the final scenes an odd punchline rather than a meaningful closure.
Joel Tan, Julian Wong, and Joel Nah do an excellent job creating the music, with the main theme, “Tropicana”, and “Live Your Life” being stand-out tracks. The ode to rock and roll, “I Swear on Ganja”, however, is an odd fit and consequently it sticks out from the rest of the musical.
Putra’s character questions why Tropicana only imports foreign acts, and bars only allow him to play covers of international hits. His frustration rings true because this is a pervasive problem for Singapore’s entertainment industry. Yet, we hear Marvin Gaye, Frank Sinatra, and T-Rex, but never the like of The Quests or The Straydogs (both explicitly mentioned in the musical). What could have been an apt point on our audience’s penchant for internationally recognised art ends up feeling like empty posturing.
Tropicana fits into a specific canon of musical theatre, and if approached as such, can be a fun time. Some scenes are truly funny and others heartfelt. But the directness of the writing and the mismatched scale of its cast hold it back. If the audience is trusted to come to its own conclusions, the musical has the potential to be truly memorable and meaningful.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
TROPICANA the Musical by Spare Room Productions
13 – 30 April 2017
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Yan is currently studying in Yale-NUS College, where he enjoys spending his free time in far too many productions. Having tried acting, writing, and directing for the stage, Yan looks forward to reviewing. He believes that theatre should challenge both the audience and creators.