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Grab some pearls and a zoot suit: ‘Song of Singapore’ comes to Athens

After years in the making, Athens’ locals are working together to perform Song of Singapore for residents to enjoy. 

Song of Singapore is a musical originally published in 1993. Set in a 1941 Singaporean nightclub, the production is lighthearted and fun, a parody of the black-and-white noir films associated with the '40s. 

Although the musical never made it to Broadway, the score is known for its likeness to swing jazz music. Athens local Paula Lockheart is one of the original three composers and still resides in the city. Due to this fact, several of Lockheart’s connections wanted to see the musical onstage near them.

These initial efforts were nearly three years ago, but the pandemic hindered the desire for the musical to be performed in Athens and was not made a reality until now.

The musical will be performed from March 3 to March 6 at the Southeast Ohio History Center, 24 W. State St. Tickets are on sale here for $20. Seating is limited, and proof of vaccination is required.

When it came to Lockheart’s involvement in the production, her opinion and critiques were valued throughout the entire production process.

“She’s been right there at all of our meetings.” David Burke, one of the co-producers, said. “One thing we decided was to almost treat her as a consultant.” 

In addition to her unique insights, Lockheart also had a say when it came to the beverage selection offered. The production will be posed more as a dinner show rather than a traditional play. Guests will have the option to purchase drinks as well as have access to some hors d’oeuvres. 

“Paula Lockheart … and I really felt it was necessary, as did a couple others who had seen it, that we be able to have drinks available for people,” Burke said. “We will have a limited bar, and there’s going to be three specialty cocktails.”

The production team hopes the ambience they created will make the audience feel like they are part of the story unfolding before them.

“Once the audience comes through the door, they are actually in the middle of the show,” director David Tadlock said. “Once they sit down, the show takes place around them.”

To add to the fun and interactive feel of the production, patrons are also encouraged to dress up in '40s garb to make the experience even more special.

“We would like to encourage all the people who come to it to find vintage clothes in the back of their closet and put those things on and become a little roleplay as a 1940s audience,” Burke said.

Not only is the deliverance of the production unconventional, but the very nature of the show strays from more traditional musicals.

Song of Singapore centers around a band trying to escape from the city before the Japanese Invasion of 1942. Because of this, the band members are also the characters of the show.

“Our band is the star,” Tadlock said.

Although the uniqueness of the musical adds to the liveliness, finding actors who could play these very specific roles proved to be difficult.

“We had to find professional musicians who were not only well trained in swing jazz music, could perform together, but also could be on stage and play roles in the show, so that’s a very unusual thing,” Tadlock said. 

In the spirit of keeping the production close to Athens, the production team was very mindful of casting local talent.

“Every musician in the show is some of the best local professional musicians we could find,” Tadlock said. “They are some of the best of their craft, so getting all of them together in one space for this show was just really a triumph.”

All the cast members are well-seasoned musicians, including Julia Kelley, a first-year master's student studying music therapy and vocal performance. She is the youngest performer in the musical and the only student.

Kelley is still relatively new to the area, hailing from Washington D.C., but she said her first experience being hired to perform by a company has been relatively positive.

“This is my first year in Ohio, and it’s been nice to be a part of something and feel like I’ve made a mark in Athens,” Kelley said.

Not only does Kelley want to impact the city of Athens, but she also wants to prove to her new neighbors that she possesses the necessary skills to deliver a great performance.

“I’m hoping for them to see all the training that I have been doing so far,” Kelley said. “I’m the youngest and probably the least experienced out of all of them (the cast), and I’m hoping they can see my training has been successful.”

When it comes to what they hope the audience takes away from Song of Singapore, Tadlock has a very clear mission. 

“What we hope the audience takes away is an evening of pure laughter and enjoyment,” Tadlock said. “The show doesn’t have any serious messages; it doesn’t have any overriding agenda. It’s an evening of pure comedy and jazz swing music.”


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