Song of Singapore

Book, music & lyrics by Allan Katz, Erik Frandsen, Michael Garin, Robert Hipkens & Paula Lockheart
Octagon, Bolton

Producrion photo

The Octagon's latest production follows a recent Octagon tradition of summer musical offerings performed by actor musicians, following on from last summer's award-winning Blonde Bombshells of 1943 and the wonderful production of Jim Cartwright's Eight Miles High the year before.

In Freddy's Song of Singapore Café in 1941, Rose of Rangoon fronts the resident band, the Malayan Melody Makers, but has amnesia and so has no idea where she has come from or whom she really is, plus she forgets anything new she is told within seconds. The jewels of Jun Kin Po fall into Freddy's possession hidden in a fish, but the corrupt police chief Inspector Kurland will do anything to get his hands on them, starting with installing Chinese Chah-Li as manager of Freddy's bar to keep an eye on them all and stealing their passports. To top it all, there are reports that the Japanese are on their way, and without money or passports they can't get away.

The above description pretty much covers the whole of the story of act one—not a summary of it, the whole thing. In fact nothing that could be called plot really kicks in until we are almost at the interval, and what there is is more exciting in the above summary than in its execution, and the dialogue is laced with old gags that would illicit groans if they appeared in a children's panto. It seems that the show's creators had no real interest in the story or dialogue and only put this in to sell the piece as a theatre show rather than a period concert.

Fortunately the songs are rather better, covering styles from swing to blues and from ballads to comic patter songs. In fact many of the songs are superbly written and arranged, and the comic lyrics are so good—and very funny—in some songs that it hard to believe they came from the same team that wrote the awful dialogue. There are some great wartime harmonies on the title song, individual comedy songs such as Spike's 'Inexpensive Tango', a wonderful ensemble comic number led by Freddy with the great title 'Never Pay Musicians What They're Worth', silly songs, wistful songs, fun, party songs and much more.

Director Mark Babych has once again brought together a very talented group of actor musicians, led by musical director Howard Gray as Freddy who plays piano, delivers his dialogue as well as anyone could and has an incredible singing voice. The wonderful Andrew Schofield returns to the theatre as Spike with a great array of comic characters, topped at the end by his funny missionary. Ruth Alexander-Rubin makes a very strong frontman to the band as Rose with a great voice. Matt Devereaux plays an array of very silly characters with no apparent inhibitions and does one of the best pre-show announcements (about turning off mobile 'phones and not making recordings) I have heard. Emily Grace as Chah-Li has a pleasant voice but seems a little stiff and apart from the party that everyone else is enjoying on stage. Lots more parts and instruments are played by Tayo Akinbode, Christopher Fry, Nick Lashbrook and Francis Tucker.

Richard Foxton's set makes a great impression as soon as the audience enters the theatre, as the auditorium seating has been rearranged slightly with loose club-style tables and chairs on the front row and bamboo matting along the balcony rails. The stage has an elaborate proscenium arch behind the band with lots of bamboo, wood and colourful plants around it and a straw-roofed bar to one side. There is an old-style microphone at the front for the lead vocalist (fortunately with modern technology inside) but, disappointingly, most of the vocals come through lavalier radio mics stuck to the performers' faces, which occasionally are a bit noisy and are sometimes swamped by a little too much reverb.

If you can ignore the pointless 'story' and the awful jokes and just listen to the songs, this is an entertaining couple of hours (it runs at about two hours including the interval, not two and a half plus interval as stated on the theatre's web site) performed very well by a talented cast that seems relaxed enough on stage to have a good time and laugh at one another, which creates a great atmosphere.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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