Magazine article The Spectator

Weird and Wonderful

Magazine article The Spectator

Weird and Wonderful

Article excerpt

Precious few actresses hit two really good new small-scale musicals in the same decade, let alone the same summer, but you could always argue that Issy Van Randwyck is like precious few other actresses. A Dutch baroness who started out clog-dancing to `Tulips From Amsterdam' as the supporting act to Larry Adler, she is unquestionably the most eccentric star singer to have emerged in this country since Hermione Gingold or Beatrice Lillie, and what she is currently doing has to be seen, not necessarily to be believed.

Song of Singapore is a musical at the Minerva in Chichester, the first sold-out hit in a long and troubled series of misadventures, which apparently first surfaced offBroadway some years ago. No fewer than five composer-lyricists are credited with its creation, not one of whom I have heard of in any other stage musical context. The word is that they are jazz men and women who, bored of bandstand life backing other people, decided to build for themselves a show in which they could star as well as play.

And what they have constructed is truly weird and wonderful; we are in Singapore at the end of 1941, just as the Japanese invasion is about to start. In a rundown nightclub there is an amnesiac singer who might just possibly be Amelia Earhart; unfortunately she is now so forgetful that even before she clambers to the end of a short sentence, she has forgotten how it started. Backing her in the band are assorted losers, wisecrackers, would-be lovers; there are also some missing jewels hidden in a fish, some wild, racially incorrect jokes of total glory, and a good, cynical line of dialogue: `He's a vicious, psychotic killer, and before that he was a divorce lawyer.'

If you can imagine the Marx Brothers' version of Casablanca, or Peter Nichols's Privates on Parade made over by the writers of Hellzapoppin, you will have some idea of what is going on here, though admittedly not a lot. Only a few weeks ago Van Randwyck was starring at Jermyn Street in another small-scale musical of utter anarchic delight, this one called Nora Blake and again aimed at late-night movie fanatics, specifically those movies starring Barbara Stanwyck as twins. For Song of Singapore, it might help to have seen (as well as the aforementioned Casablanca) several other B features of the Forties, preferably starring Peter Lorre, Esther Williams, Hedy Lamarr and Dolores del Rio, though not necessarily in that order. Carmen Miranda might also be usefully invoked here.

What is so utterly, blissfully rich and rare here is the double-standard whereby the entire cast know they are involved in rubbish but are having such a good time at it that their joy overtakes the auditorium. It is true that Song of Singapore has no real second half, and it is also true that the cast does one anyway; the plot, such as it is, does have to be tied up albeit in the most ramshackle of knots. The songs bear increasingly little reference to the action, but they too have a weird life of their own, while Randwyck's Voodoo war dance, apparently written and rehearsed somewhere in Tunbridge Wells, has to be seen not to be believed.

As pianist and nightclub host, Elio Pace is a Billy Joel lookalike of suitably dour and cynical manner except of course when he himself has a song to sell; the rest of the cast are equally agile at the jazz and the jokes, especially Beatrice Grace who, straight from drama school, turns into a supremely sinister kind of Madame Saigon. …

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