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Legit scene worth singing about.

SINGAPORE Singaporeans love musicals and other forms of theater -- whether homegrown or imported -- and they can look forward to a smorgasbord of shows over the next six to nine months.

Indeed, there are signs of a resurgence of commercially mounted productions after the local economy climbed out of recession in the first quarter of this year.

As a market for live entertainment, "Singapore has turned the corner," Tim McFarlane, Sydney, Australia-based managing director of the Really Useful Company, tells Variety.

"People are more positive and there is much more interest from potential sponsors," says McFarlane, who plans to stage one tuner (believed to be "Sunset Boulevard") in the city-state next year, marking RUC's return after "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" in 1997.

"Musicals are popular in Singapore because people from different backgrounds can enjoy them. You don't have to be a serious theatergoer to enjoy a musical," notes Mary Loh, a consultant who was Really Useful's rep for three years.

"There's a minimum base of people here who will go to the theater. Around 120,000 people saw `Les Miserables.' Another 165,000 saw `Phantom,' which had attendance capacities of 98.5%. Even `Joseph' broke even with 71% attendance," Loh adds.

Given the popularity of the those staples, local impresario Music & Movement is trying to break new ground by presenting "Forbidden Broadway," Sept. 7-18.

Hoof beats

The Australian arm of Intl. Management Group is importing "Tap Dogs" for 12 shows at the Kalang Theater in October and plans in March to bring over "Chicago." Last October, IMG in a joint venture with Lunchbox Theater Prods, a company owned by IMG managing director James Cundall, staged "Stomp" and sold 96% of tickets for 13 perfs.

"We're seeing a blossoming of commercial theater in Singapore, which is being helped by homegrown product," Cundall says. "We aim to do one large show there each year."

At least two upcoming events aim to stretch conventional boundaries.

Singapore Repertory Theater is opening a 160-seat dinner theater in August in partnership with Seagram. The first show, "Ah Kong's Birthday Dinner," revolving around a grandfather's 70th birthday dinner, is intended to run for two months and to attract about 10,000 people.

The other novel attraction is the $12 million "Star Trek: The World Tour," debuting in December at Suntec City as a co-venture between Paramount and the Asian arm of exhibition organizer Messe Dusseldorf.

Billed as a "virtual-reality family entertainment experience," it has visitors boarding the Starship Enterprise and interacting with "Star Trek" characters. It is scheduled to run for 68 days.

"We expect attendance of about 400,000 for the exhibition," Loh says.

Despite the economic slowdown, Action Theater's tuner "Chang & Eng" smashed B.O. records during its 55 perfs in January and February, renewing confidence in the musical genre.

"Audiences are growing. There are 10 musicals this year. Slowly but surely we are developing into a state where perhaps we could soon call our scene an industry," says Action Theater director Ekachai Uekrongtham.

In a coup for Singapore, the world famous Cirque du Soleil decided to locate its regional headquarters here, taking advantage of the Economic Development Board's tax incentives. Helene Larivee, Cirque du Soleil managing director, Asia Pacific says: "With our business headquarters in Singapore, we can develop Cirque du Soleil's projects and presence in the region, while respecting the cultural practices of each country where Cirque performs."

Cirque du Soleil's regional base "enhances our position as an entertainment hub," says Yeo Khee Leng, Singapore Tourist Promotion Board chief executive. In November, after it ends its 11-month Australian tour, the troupe will install a $10 million, 82-foot-high big top for its production of "Saltimbanco" on the field in front of Singapore's City Hall.

Theatre Works is staging "Haunted," a musical starring Jacintha Abishnegaden and Lim Siauw Chong (scripted by Ovidia Yu with lyrics by Mark Chan), in July and it's premiering popular playwright Michael Chiang's "Tarts" in November.

The just-wrapped Singapore Arts Festival (May 28-June 20) showcased a raft of new local acts, including the U.S.-trained Tammy L. Wong Dance Co., experimental theater group Spell #7 and Drama Box's "Mr. Beng: A Musical Comedy."

The arts festival combines two previously biennial events, the Festival of Arts and Festival of Asian Performing Arts.
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Title Annotation:Singapore theater
Author:LEE, MARY; GROVES, DON
Publication:Variety
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:9SING
Date:Jun 21, 1999
Words:712
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