Review: A Singaporean in Paris | The Flying Inkpot
Directed by Hossan Leong
Produced & Created by Nathalie Ribette
Drama Centre Theatre
3 Nov 2022
Review by Aileen Tang
Just the name of the city, Paris, brings to mind iconic – albeit stereotypical – things like sipping un café avec un croissant at a bistro while wearing a red beret. Paris has been romanticized and immortalized through its food, fashion and art and for a lot of us, our intimacy with French music probably rests on Debussy, Ravel and Edith Piaf.
A Singaporean in Paris played on all of these – and more, its repertoire of popular French tunes nestled in the familiarity of let’s-poke-fun-at-ourselves Singaporean humour.
Twice sold-out in 2010 and 2014, Sing’Theatre’s musical comedy returns once again, and this 3rd run was not simply a reprise of the earlier iterations; it has been revised to an up-to-date “new normal” version – with mentions of things like fist/elbow/ankle(?) bumps being poor substitutes for the continental kiss-on-both-cheeks Bonjour.
Headliner and director Hossan Leong is one of the biggest champions of the French arts here and he was conferred Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2010 by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication for his contributions to bridging cultural relations between France and Singapore.
The musical revolves around the Parisian experiences of a group of Singaporeans all with their different aspirations and struggles, through their interactions at a cabaret. From Leong’s first appearance on stage cradling a rice cooker, we knew we were in for a cross-cultural bag of fun. Giggles from the audience became full-on guffaws at Alison Jean Lester’s clever script bubbling over with sparkling humour – at the expense of the idiosyncrasies of Parisians and Singaporeans alike.
There was a live band on stage – the set being that of a cabaret – led by Musical Director and pianist Elaine Chan, and comprising Chee Wah Yong (bass), Joshua Tan (guitar) and Lee Lin Chow (drums). They played equal partners to the cast of Amin Alifin (Terry), Ethel Yap (Anne), Gaby Rae (Sofia), Peter Ong (Edmund) and Hossan Leong (K.Q.) – all impressive, versatile performers. The ensemble numbers like C’est Si Bon, Paris is at her best in May and Les Comediens were joyful displays of scrumptious harmonies, and each actor shone in their own individual numbers. Some of the lyrics were in their original French but it didn’t matter if you didn’t understand the language because there was no confusion about the songs’ sentiment and intention. And even when the song didn’t lend itself to forwarding the “plot” as much – like Leong’s rendition of Comme d’Habitude (the tune of which is otherwise known as My Way) – one could just lose oneself in the lyricism.
The cast are such strong singers that it would have been easy to imagine oneself as literally enjoying a cabaret show – until they reminded us that they are also persuasive actors. Rae’s imploring It Will Be My Day was heartbreaking, as was Alifin’s introspective The Windmills Of Your Mind. Alifin’s roguish charm and Ong’s loveable flamboyance were crowd-pleasers in songs like Beyond The Sea and Je ne veux pas travailler.
But the star shone particularly bright for Yap as the charismatic and savvy Anne, owner of the cabaret. Not only was her solo, Mamma, a powerful blend of poignancy and hope, her chemistry with Leong in songs such as La Seine and You’ve Let Yourself Go was brilliant. Leong – a consummate entertainer and fluent in French and French-accented English – met and exceeded expectations as the starry-eyed Singaporean dazzled by sights and sounds of Paris.
If there was one thing I wanted to raise my fist in protest instead of raise my glass (Santé!), it would be the underused set. Designed by Wong Chee Wai, the revolving set showed the inside of the cabaret on one side and an outdoors scene of Parisian spring on the other. Disappointingly, the latter was only used for the feel-good Paris is at her best in May. While it makes logical sense since most of the storyline does take place inside the cabaret or in the characters’ subconscious, it did seem a pity that the set only revolved once.
The revue ended with the audience in high spirits, clapping along to the music and cheering for the cast. Leong reminded us that we all need love and laughter in our lives, and this was surely one of those shows that made us go “C’est si bon!”
A Singaporean in Paris runs till 13 Nov 2022. Tickets are available from SISTIC:
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