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Production

Dim Sum Dollies: The History of Singapore

Company

Dream Academy

Reviewer

Deanne Tan

Date

07/07/2007

Time

8.00pm

Place

Esplanade Theate

Rating

****

The History Girls

The Dim Sum Dollies score again with their latest production, The History of Singapore. In the hands of the "naughty, saucy, almost tacky" Dim Sum Dollies, the days of Temasek, Sir Stamford Raffles and separation from Malaya are rich material for hilarious songs and skits. Who would have imagined that the Integrated Resorts were first conceived by an entrepreneurial bunch of opium den, brothel and gambling den owners? Or that the swarthy pirates of the Malacca Straits ran their ship with KPIs and pay reviews somewhat similar to those of the civil service?

With their trademark sassiness, the Dollies flirted lightly with sensitive issues, combining incisive social observations with a whole lotta heart. The skit "Samsui Woman", with its lung-busting showtune, showed us what girl power is about, while "Singapore Girl" featuring the inimitable Hossan Leong as Miss Singapore was surprisingly nationalistic. The underdogs of our history received ample stage time, with rickshaw pullers and kampong ladies sharing the stage with other eminent personalities.

For the latter, most of the skits poking fun at them were pure naughtiness. The hypothetical meeting between Mahatma Gandhi (Hossan Leong) and Mao Zedong (Selena Tan) was completely irreverent - and totally hilarious. In contrast, some other skits, like "LuckiLee", coyly referred to existing political leaders in part-glowing, part-mocking ways without ever making a clear stand. While this was an undoubtedly clever and kiasu way to avoid lawsuits, it also underscores the extent of self-censorship in the arts today. Dollies beware: too much of such prevaricating will eventually take the bite out of your characteristic wit.

This was articulate, self-aware fun that was not too precious to omit the occasional cheap pun - which, if used in the right context, can still thrill. The music, which was slightly blander than previous shows, nonetheless displayed a wide range of styles to beguile even the most attention deficit disordered audience. The Dollies belted out overwrought Sandiwara themes, sassy showtunes, moody blues, as well as time-honoured national songs like Good, Better, Best!

Hossan Leong deserves an honorary Dolly-ship for his significant contributions. In History, he practically stole the show with roles such as an effete Sang Nila Utama who prefers to "relak in a corner" than to conquer new lands, a recalcitrant convent schoolgirl, a materialistic Peranakan tai tai, and of course Miss Singapore circa 1965. This vulnerable lass, kicked out of the Miss Malaysia contest after separation, played out our nation's larger separation anxieties, and then paralleled Singapore's nation-building process as she found the strength to stage her own Miss Singapore contest. Leong's presence and comic genius infallibly lit up the stage with each appearance.

Oddly, out of the three Dollies, only Dolly Emma Yong seemed to be on top form, dishing out razzle and dazzle with enthusiastic flourish. Pam Oei wasn't really her usual chilli padi self, and creator Selena Tan seemed a little deflated (notwithstanding her self-proclaimed similarity to char siew pau).

The Dollies, guests-to-be at the upcoming National Day Parade (NDP) 07, have their manicured fingers on the pulse of society and their hearts are in the right places too. Cynics and patriots alike will laugh aloud at the infectious jokes and marvel at the timeless truths revealed through comedy. The only thing really standing between the Dollies and our oh-so-Singaporean desire for world-class acclaim is their less than fabulous showgirl skills. Comediennes and actresses the Dim Sum Dollies are; dancers they are not. While witty lines, Frederick Lee costumes and top-notch production values place the Dollies in the upper percentile of local comedy productions, their ho-hum footwork and unsynchronised routines led to otherwise fantastic skits losing their fizz towards the end, instead of climaxing with a bang each time.

Nevertheless, one could do much worse than the Dim Sum Dollies. At the end of the day, wit and substance are what engage audiences in the long term, and the Dollies have proven their mettle in this area. The Dollies have perfected their winning formula (as the Dollies might themselves say, comedy also need Formula One) and are running with it in the best possible way. Indeed, the Dollies are going from good to better, and hopefully the best.


"Comediennes and actresses the Dim Sum Dollies are; dancers they are not."

Credits

Main cast: Selena Tan, Pam Oei, Emma Yong and Hossan Leong

Loh Mai guys: Gordon Choy, Zachary Goh, Jonathan Lum, Oliver Pang, Fariz bin Sarib and Miko Valenzuela

Booster chorus: Ang Tin Chuan, Aaron Goh, John Lee and Leslie Tay

Dim Sum band: Elaine Chan, Colin Yong, Joshua Tan, Joel Nah, Vickneskumar Veerappan and Kelvin "Smokey" Ng

Director: Glen Goei

Creator, Writer and Executive Producer: Selena Tan

Composer and Musical Director: Elaine Chan

Choreographer: Erich Edralin

Vocal coach and Director: Amanda Colliver

Set Design Team: Nicholas Li, Li Ka Yui, Yang Han, Lin Shuxian and Tiw Pek Hong of VLDC
Lighting Designer: Yo Shao Ann

Assistant Lighting Designer: Maung Thu Yain Pye Aung

Sound Designer: Shah Tahir

Costume Designers: Moe Kasim and Frederick Lee

More Reviews by Deanne Tan

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.