High Class

Decked in Hervé Léger, skyscraper heels, and a Hermès Birkin, Alexis (Nikki Muller) is all grace and class. The recently divorced, affluent socialite is producing a reality show High Class, casting herself as the one to groom and fulfill dreams of girls who aspire to be tai-tais [Cantonese for wives of the wealthy]. To sabotage her plans and embarrass her on national TV, her loaded ex-husband Draycott (Andrew Lua) and his catty lover, Siobhan (Kimberly Chan) replace her hopeful candidates with 5 misfits.

These unlikely 5 are: tomboyish property agent Meng Yee (Serena Ho), beauty pageant girl Janine (Mina Kaye), NEA dengue control inspector Sunita Pillay (Jo Tan), enthusiastic Chinese permanent resident, Ye Feng (Audrey Luo), and a  tudung-donning school teacher, Azizah (Siti Khalijah Zainal). Coincidentally, Chiang has also 5 stereotypical Ah boys turned into Men in Army Daze.

You just know that transforming these less than desirable brides into polished trophy wives is going to be more fun than watching nerds undergo a hunk makeover in Beauty and the Geek.

And the ones sworn to do it are dead serious. Alexis and her 2 best friends, flamboyant hairstylist Mac (Shane Mardjuki) and television producer Samson (Ebi Shankara) are as professional as they come, with a posh salon, called ‘MacFook Hair’, offering services like ‘iCut’, and ‘iWash’, and a high-tech television production studio, ‘Samson’.

Although Muller’s hosting career has taken flight, starting at a young age of 15 with “MTV@Mbassy” which led on to more hosting jobs such as “The Bicycle Diaries” by Channel News Asia and even reporting Singapore home games during the Malaysian Super League 2012, this is Muller’s ­stage debut alongside other in musical such as Timothy Wan.

Muller may only be 27, but her young age did not get in the way of delivering her role without being too over the top, showing poise. Her honesty and control of emotions is best seen in the scene where she meets Ryan (Timothy Wan) at the old folks’ home as well as her performance of the song “Diamond Life” as she reminisces of the loving times she spent with Draycott, building his empire an idea at a time.

Zainal’s portrayal of the lovable makcik [Malay for aunty], Azizah, is wonderfully delivered through her humorous lines, accompanied with a thick Malay accent. “They think I wear tudung means cannot take part [in the reality show], is it?” she exclaims at one point, leaving the audience in fits of laughter. Similar to the makciks in our everyday lives, Azizah is the motherly yet comical we can all put name to.

Ye Feng is another character that everyone can identify with her loud China accent and unrefined personality. However beneath that graceless cover, is an endearing personality that shines through whenever she talks about her hometown, Beijing, and her care and concern towards the other 4 contestants.

The musical, similar to Beauty World, is also accompanied by 5 catchy songs, including “Tai Tai Me Up!” by singer-songwriter Don Richmond, brother-in-law of the play’s director, Beatrice Chia-Richmond, providing a mixture of wit and laughter, with lyrics “This raining got ice cube/ I go see it’s true/” poking fun at the very recent incident when Singapore has a rare experience of hail and “Stiff One” which could mean either a potent alcoholic drink, or a hardened part of the male anatomy (no points for guessing which).

As the play unfolds, the noteworthy lighting design by Dorothy Png gave the scenes more dimension. One example was the use of the white and blue lights to differentiate the flashbacks from present day happenings, when Alexis was sharing about her marriage with Draycott to Ryan, the host of High Class.

One may not enjoy the pacing of the show starting off slowly, but as the story unravels, more scenes are seen focused on Alexis displaying her heart of gold through visiting her old folks’ homes and being charitable, breaking the myth of a tai tai being snobbish, elitist and totally self-centered.

The scenes featuring the 5 contestants seemed to fly by with laughter and though they weren’t as substantial as those with Alexis in the limelight, they provided a breath of fresh air (or should I say laughing gas?) with their comical behaviour, next to Alexis’s elegant demeanour.

The plot of the play may be predictable, but weaved in the ending were bits of twists that made it enjoyable and surprising. Though Chiang’s story, his first coming 14 years after his last play My Lonely Tarts, feels a little simplistic, lacking practicality in choosing a husband, its honesty and relatable everyman humour is capable of winning the hearts of the audience. Together with the fact that the audience had control over how the ending will take place with Alexis’s love life on the line, High Class is definitely the show to watch if you want a hearty laugh over all things Singaporean.

Photos courtesy of William of SSF

About Gladys Goh

If Gladys could have things her way, she'd start her day at 2pm, with a cup of earl grey tea and a blueberry tart in hand, after which she'll curl up in bed to read articles and poems about love and its perfect illusions until it’s time to sleep again. Unfortunately, like everyone else, she has responsibilities to bear and work to do, so she makes up for her compromises by indulging in too much retail therapy and watching her favourite shows and movies in her spare time. She believes that flowers are the prettiest things on earth (peonies are her favourite) and is amazed at how beautiful nature is whenever she happens to catch a flash of lightning or when she stargazes.

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