>hip hopera by buds youth theatre

>reviewed by jeremy samuel

>date: 9 jan 2004
>time: 7:30pm
>venue: mox cafe and bar
>rating: ***

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


Mox Café, a camp little venue at the best of times, is all decked out in fluffy pink seat covers and an alarmingly rosy overhead light. A dancer does warm-ups on the platform at one end of the room, while other performers roam the joint mingling with the clientele. I try to order a seabreeze from a man behind the bar, but he turns out to be an actor, and unsure of how the cocktail shaker works; clearly this will take some getting used to.

HIP HOPERA, Huzir 'Atomic Jaya' Sulaiman's tart homage to boozy barroom romances, fits perfectly into this setting - edgy but not dangerous. The plot is negligible - bar owner Johan (Chris Ngyee, oozing slime from every pore) must shed his womanising ways in order to win the love of bargirl Salina (Mariel Reyes) - and the songs are largely insipid, but what stands out is the energy of the ensemble and their commitment to the quirky humour of the text.

>>'It may be a little rough around the edges, but HIP HOPERA is never less than entertaining'

Sticky romantic scenes are interspersed with snapshots of the bar heaving with action, and the whole is glued together with trippy songs. The haphazard plotting is saved by Sulaiman's sharp writing and unerring eye for the cheap laugh ("We are men!" declares one character. "If you bleed us, are we not pricks?"). Like the inmates of a particularly hip asylum, the characters converse almost entirely in song lyrics and clichés; for example:

Salina: I'm not waiting for him to strum my pain with his finger.
Doris : Don't wait. Let him eat cake.

Director Claire Devine makes excellent use of the space, positioning the actors across the room so the action wraps around the audience. She is helped by a promising cast, particularly Celine Rosa Tan as bar manager Doris, who delivers a deliciously barbed performance as the jaded, ageing lush with a heart of gold. Also good are Reyes, bringing a fresh-faced charm to her Salina, and the improbably-named Scorpion Zsa Zsa as Trey, the bar's resident DJ.

The production as a whole is enjoyable, but is not without its problems. The singing, while energetic, is weak in places, and Joanne Sim's choreography, while visually interesting, is nowhere near as polished as it needs to be. The biggest disappointment is the weak chemistry between Reyes and Ngyee - it is difficult to believe in or care about the relationship between Johan and Salina when the sparks that should be flying between them are so conspicuously absent.

Still, it would be churlish to pick holes in what is after all a highly accomplished effort from a youth theatre group. It may be a little rough around the edges, but HIP HOPERA is never less than entertaining, and at its best is very good indeed.