Song of Singapore, Mayfair Theatre, London

The song remains inane (but in a good way)
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Provided you check your brains in at the cloakroom and get a couple of drinks inside you first, you'll have a swell time at Song of Singapore, the defiantly daft off-Broadway musical. It's 1941 and the action is located in a seedy nightclub on the Sing-apore waterfront. The Mayfair Theatre has been converted into a cabaret dive where Freddy, the blind piano player and his raffish expat jazzmen entertain the colonials as the Japanese army draws near.

It's a moment poised on cal-amity, but don't expect another Privates on Parade,Cabaret or any remotely serious attempt to use a showbiz troupe as a microcosm of the period and its values. The blithe book is credited to no fewer than five Americans; you may wonder if they ever actually met as you decide it's not worth trying to follow the spoof B-movie plot involving holy jewels stolen from a Hindu temple, identical twins, a corrupt British chief of police and a fish that is an unadulterated red herring. But then, this is the kind of show that sets out to be silly, and you'll emerge wearing either a frankly bemused exp-ression or a goofy grin of pleasure at the wit and chutzpah with which the cast revel in the niftily knowing rubbish.

It's the songs that really get the joint jumping. The score is a vivid parade of Forties parodies and pastiches (Andrews Sisters close-harmony, scat, swing, gospel), with just enough of an original twist to deliver a comic punch. This must be, for example, the first time a jazz musician has hymned the delights, not of Harlem, but of Haarlem, his truly dismal-sounding hometown in Holland: "Haarlem's flat/I don't care about that/I'm almost as flat as can be/Haarlem's on the level/Even though that level/Is a bit below the level of the sea". And there's an idiotic charm about the songs that are "homages" to the point of lar-ceny; the police inspector launches into a Porteresque litany of piscine mating rituals ("Even sturgeons/Have their urgin's") in a number that suggests the harbour is a bouillabaisse of passion.

Turning in a drolly bad-taste send-up of a blind jazz pianist, Elio Pace's Freddy is said to be "the man who taught the little birdies the word 'cheep' ", but there is nothing cut-price about the excellent playing of his crew of cynical musicians. They blow up a hilariously virtuosic storm of protest when Freddy outlines his stingy philosophy: "I've played in every gin mill/From Paris down to Perth/You just never pay musicians what they're worth". The band's resident chantoosie, Rose – a girl with a mysterious memory loss about everything but lyrics – is played by a triumphant Issy van Randwyck, flashing a mean thigh and a smile so wide and eager you fear the top half of her head will fall off. The infectious verve of her belting and the ease with which she can switch from daffy dumb-blonde to brassy broad to bluesy poignancy leave you with little choice but to sit back and succumb. So, if you want to give your mind a rest, slip into a sarong and head off to Song.

To 9 September (020-7582 3861)

Comments