Monday, October 29, 2007


Bare necessities – By ANDREW SIA

The team has fun getting everything in tip-top condition before the musical takes to the stage.
Soo plays the role of Xuan, the rival to Chan (played by Tin Tan). The renowned Melinda Looi has specially crafted the costumes for both of them and I am granted a rare behind-the-scenes peek at some of the, um ... intimate preparations.
As the designer tightens the laces on Soo’s corset, I have to suppress all other thoughts save the intellectual ones.
“They even made corsets out of metal those days. Some women died wearing them,” Looi notes.

Ah, such are the injustices suffered for the fickle male gaze. Yet, such is the allure.
When she designed the costumes, she looked up 1950s pin-up girl posters.
“It was part of the Dior look, a super small waist, big skirt and pointy boobs. Here, as I pull in Carmen’s waist with the corset, her other assets get pushed up,” Looi explains the basics of bustline-engineering to me.
“It’s all in the cutting. I can make it even more pointy if I want,” she says.
But she has to be careful not to leave too much room “inside” as Asian breasts are smaller in size and there might be too much “movement”. To further “push up” matters, she adds that some tape may be applied to the, er ... right places.
Looi spared no effort in the designs. Buttons for the corset were specially imported from a Victorian-themed costume store in America.
And she even considered buying a 1950s-type bra on the Internet (there are collectors!) for the sake of authenticity. And to be true to the Malayan style then, it would have had to be starched – ouch! Unfortunately, or otherwise, everything online was of “Mat Salleh size”.
On top of the corset (and matching shorts) are a frilly black can can skirt, a bolero for the shoulders and full-length gloves.

“So she has something for a so-called strip-lah....” says Looi.
The “interview” is distinctly heated up when Low Ngai Yuen (the show’s director who is overseeing the costume fittings) asks Soo to lift her skirt to flash a little of the red garter belt underneath.
“Aiyo, your boyfriend will faint-lah,” smiles Looi, as I endeavour to maintain my professional composure.
“Won’t-lah,” coos Soo. “He’s coming for the show, he’s OK one.”
Sure, sure. But before I can consider the mixed blessings of gorgeous girlfriends, Ngai Yuen explains that burlesque is not about an “outright crass” display of flesh.

“It’s all about teasing, it’s classy, it’s an art.”

She looks back at the fitting in progress.
“Is the corset tight enough? I’m scared something may pop out.”
“Don’t worry, it’s just right,”
replies Looi.
Ah, yes ... such “wardrobe malfunction” was precisely how Rose Chan got her “historic” breakthrough. She was a hot-shot cabaret girl with her own dance variety show touring the whole of Malaya – but there was no stripping yet. She crossed the Rubicon in 1952 when, while dancing to Mambo No. 5 at the Majestic Theatre in Ipoh, her bra snapped and the crowd went bonkers.

“Here I dance all night and sweat so much and nobody claps. My bra breaks and they clap,” she said in an old interview.
So will history repeat itself in the musical?

“Choi gor lei! (Cantonese: May such bad luck return to you!)” retorts Looi.
Actor-dancer Tin Tan, who plays the title role, will appear “nude” in one scene but no, those costume secrets are best denied to spare me a cardiac overload. Instead I am shown her wearing the seductive sashay of fish net stockings and a fully-sequined halter neck top made of silk georgette.
“There will even be ostrich feathers. More hiau (Hokkien for sexy),” says Looi.
Sure, all this titillation may be all in a day’s work for a journalist exposed to hardcore, ummm, cerebral matters, but what about “moral” Malaysians?

“It’s a bit daring but not in an offensive way,” assures Ngai Yuen. “I’m a mother, I want to bring my young daughter to watch the show as well.”
Indeed, any slinky seduction will occur in an overall “fun” atmosphere, which will be reflected in 1980s and 90s pop music reupholstered in a 1950s cabaret tone.
Penny Low, the music director, says she has “tweaked in” bits of rhumba, cha-cha, tap and even P. Ramlee into the score. Numbers by that sultry icon Madonna – Like a Virgin, Material Girl and Vogue – will be presented in swing and honky-tonk style while songs like Beautiful Girls (Sean Kingston) and I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor) should add some pathos. And of course, there will be the eponymous Rose, Rose I Love You (Yao Lee) done in both Mandarin and English.
“Some songs will be spliced together. Some lyrics will be changed,” says Penny. “It will be like the show Mamma Mia, where the actors break into song at certain points. Overall it will be a happy mood and people will want to jump up and down.”

In other departments too, there has been absolute attention to detail. For instance, make-up artist Yokoe Chan from M.A.C has rigorously followed 1950s-style make-up with fiery red lips and very full, arched eyebrows.
“They didn’t have thin shaved or tattooed eyebrows then,” she says.

Steven Sunny, the stylist, presides over a whole slew of beehive and other wigs. The one for Rose herself is a massive piece made up of four different wigs!
“It feels like a heavy helmet!” says Tan.
Sunny explains: “I did her wig with a cute fringe because the Oriental mooi gwai (rose) must look nice and demure on the outside even though she’s wild inside.”
The only shortcoming thus far has been the sponsorships. Ngai Yuen wishes there was more public support for the arts.

“Our sponsors are in kind, such as Genting which sponsored the venue. We are running on a budget of RM250,000, which is one-tenth what it costs for the Puteri Gunung Ledang musical.
“We have no cash sponsors. Maybe we are not Broadway, but even they had to start somewhere. We are not like Singapore where the government has pumped in a lot of money to promote the arts. I wish corporations would not turn us away even before hearing us out.”

'Rose Rose I Love You' will be staged at the Genting International Showroom from Nov 2 to 4, and on Nov 9 to 11. It is mostly in English with some Cantonese/Mandarin dialogue (with subtitles). Also in the cast are Tony Eusoff, K.K. Wong, Ling Tan, Lim Tiong Wooi and Anrie Too.
Shows begin at 8.30pm with additional 3pm shows on Sundays. Ticket prices start from RM68. Astro subscribers and Genting WorldCard members get discounts.
For bookings, call 03-2718 1118 or 012-292 3803 or 012 396 2840
For more information, browse