Why is this Broadway musical featuring a racist song?
The relatively unknown, nearly 50-year-old, off-off Broadway musical "Dames at Sea" is making its Broadway debut featuring a song called "Singapore Sue."
Less than a week after a production of "The Mikado" was canceled due to allegations of racism, "Dames at Sea" a relatively unknown, nearly 50-year-old, off-off Broadway musical is making its Broadway debut featuring a song called "Singapore Sue."
The show's director and choreographer, Randy Skinner, isn't worried though.
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Skinner, a three-time Tony Award nominee, has an impressive resume that includes revivals of other old-time musicals like '42nd Street' which "Dames" is partialy based on and parodies.
"It is certainly a celebration of the movie musical — which is one of my passions. There are three films from the Warner Brothers vault that the authors very cleverly referenced in the writing in some of the lines, and the feel of the numbers," Skinner told Metro. "[Those films] were '42nd Street,' 'Gold Diggers of 1933' and 'Footlight Parade.' They are all of course wonderful film musicals."
'Dames at Sea, despite being credited as giving Bernadette Peters her start in theatre, is a musical that for the most part has only been performed by small regional, community and high school theater porgrams. In fact, this article's writer was in a high school production of the show in 2007.
The highschool's version of the show did not include the song in question: "Singapore Sue."
Here are some choice lyrics from the song:
Where are you my oriental pearl?
Where are you my lovely China girl?
Ever since you vanished in the Malay evening,
there's no beauty in this lonely world!
So sweet and soft and gentle,
my favorite oriental,
the nicest girl ashore is Singapore Sue.
Of all the Chinese lasses,
the only one that passes
with such a perfect score,
is Singapore Sue.
Skinner says that steps have been taken to avoid any controversy with the song: The two instances of "oriental" have been written out of the song, the number and its set has been designed in "a very tasteful style", and there will be no use of yellowface.
"I think when you see it you will think 'Oh wow, this can be done!'" Skinner said as he explained the steps taken in anticiaption. "It's very important to do that today with any subject matter depending what you might be singing about or talking about if it involves a take on a certain minority — you have to be very sensitive to those issues."
Matt Lee is a Web producer for Metro New York. He writes about almost everything and anything. Talk to him (or yell at him) on Twitter so he doesn’t feel lonely@mattlee2669.