Rich Beauty World shines a spotlight on Singapore

By Emale Gray

“Beauty World—the ladies! Beauty World—the dancing!” This was the theme song of the show cleverly titled (can you guess?) Beauty World. If you have ever seen any Asian soap operas, you know the deal—a long string of episodes with corny storylines, crazy plot twists, and slapstick comedy. Beauty World takes this already pleasurable genre and compresses it into a two-and-a-half-hour production to familiarize the uninitiated with this sort of dramedy.

Twelve songs, three acts, more than 20 cast members, and only one chance to give a performance of a lifetime. Even though the team of Beauty World was faced with all of these potential problems, they managed to give an astonishing rendition of this Singaporean classic. Upon entering Mandel Hall, I was immediately impressed by the number of people filling the venue. After the mysterious narrative voice gave an informative prelude, the curtains opened and I felt myself immersed in Beauty World. Vivid scenery and matching costumes filled the stage, and the theme song soon commenced: “Beauty World…cha, cha, cha!”

So, here’s the story in a nutshell: Ivy (Adela Foo) wants to know where her daddy is. The only possession her father left her was a charm with the words “Beauty World,” which is the name of a Singaporean nightclub. Clearly, the next logical step for Ivy is to apply to be a hoochie at the club. So, after leaving a note of absence for her friend Frankie (Ng Wai Keong) and abandoning her buddy Rosemary (Caitlin Niles), she does just this.

Once there, she meets one of the club’s vintage whores, Lulu (Serene Chen) as well as “Mummy” (Tan Hui Leng) and is from then on a worker at Beauty World. A couple of songs later, Frankie finds the note from Ivy and ponders what to do with Rosemary, who develops an attraction toward him. All the while, love blossoms between Ivy and Beauty World coworker Ah Hock (Lee Lip Jin). Ah Hock sings a tune of desperation somewhere around this time that is noteworthy only because of its overdramatic tone. Random ballet dancers and blue fog compensate for the sub-par singing.

In any case, Frankie makes his way to Beauty World and looks for Ivy. Lulu forces Ivy to consume three drinks that make her pass out in mere seconds (those Singaporean drinks must be strong). Someone tries to rape Ivy but is thwarted by Ah Hock, who carries Ivy back to the club where she can sleep safely.

Frankie meets Ah Hock, and a fistfight breaks out. The oddly contented owner of Beauty World shows up, and all the characters gather center stage. After a lot of chatter, we learn that the owner made five of the charms mentioned earlier. He kept one, while the others went to Mummy and two others. Whom did the final charm belong to? Lulu! We find that Lulu is Ivy’s long-lost mother. And who’s the baby-daddy? Some random Japanese soldier whom Lulu slept with.

Inspiring performances were given by lead Foo and the rest of the cast and chorus. The award for cast underdog goes to the uncredited role of the club’s maintenance woman, who was doing or saying something hilarious in every scene she was in. Yes, that’s Beauty World—a world of what director Andy Tan describes as full of “love, dishonesty, secret pasts, unfulfilled yearnings, and truths.”