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THEATER REVIEW

`Singapore' slings the fun

Sure, there's eye-rolling silliness. But the '30s and '40s song stylings really boogie.

February 14, 2007|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

Play it, Sam. Play ... "Sunrise"? OK, so it's not exactly Rick's place in "Casablanca," but the gin joint in "Song of Singapore" is similarly located in an exotic but perilous spot during World War II.

With a nod to any number of moody, foreign-set movies -- but especially the iconic Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman film -- this loopy, lively musical evokes an era when people lived each moment as if it were the last -- and dressed to the nines while doing it.

The show made a splash off-Broadway in 1991 with Donna Murphy, then on her rise to stardom, earning raves in a key role. International City Theatre in Long Beach staged the West Coast premiere in 1994 with Jules Aaron directing. Now the company is revisiting Freddy's Song of Singapore Cafe with Aaron again directing, and the place is hopping with murder and a mad scramble for missing jewels, all unfolding amid faux-vintage jazz and swing. As silly as it is stylish, the show's a hoot, although not always as sharp as it could be.

Seating is available at 17 tables in the red-red-red cafe (think: the color of Chinese lanterns) designed by Tom Buderwitz. Remaining theatergoers are placed in the front seats sweeping the performing area.

Freddy S. Lyme (Jeffrey Rockwell) not only runs the place -- which caters mostly to expatriate Europeans and Americans -- but also lends his voice to the harmonies laid down by his headliners (played by David Holladay, Joshua Ziel and the clarion Dina Bennett). A bribe-hungry police inspector (Andrew Ross Wynn), paying frequent visits, needs little prompting to step into the spotlight to over-emote his favorite novelty numbers. To keep watch when he can't be there, the inspector installs the ravishing, mysterious Chah Li (Kathleen Chen).

Typical of the dialogue is:

"Hey, do you know there's a dead man at the bar?"

"Why, sure. B flat." Cue song.

Under Aaron's direction, every pun is pitched for maximum guffaw-groan impact, every gag played for eye-rolling effect. Further goosing the fun are J. Kent Inasy's expressive lights and Shon LeBlanc's clever costumes, especially Chah Li's array of vivid cheongsams and elaborate headdresses.

Yet all of this is mere embellishment for the show's main reason for being: Seventeen songs that evoke just about every late-1930s, early-'40s style that you could care to name. (These are by Erik Frandsen, Michael Garin, Robert Hipkens and Paula Lockheart, with Allan Katz joining them to write the book.) Sometimes goofy, sometimes gorgeous, the songs really boogie, as performed here by winning singers and a five-piece combo, under Christopher Lavely's musical direction.

daryl.miller@latimes.com

*

`Song of Singapore'

Where: International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays

Ends: March 11

Price: $40 and $45

Contact: (562) 436-4610 or www.ictlongbeach.org

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

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