Tropicana was Singapore’s — and Southeast Asia’s first entertainment complex to feature a cabaret theatre, restaurants and nightclubs. Opened in 1968, it was best known for introducing topless revues to Singapore.1 Extremely popular in its early years, Tropicana closed in 1989, and was redeveloped into a shopping centre.
Background, design and construction
In the mid-1960s, the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB, now known as the Singapore Tourism Board) identified the lack of a sophisticated theatre-restaurant and nightclub in Singapore’s entertainment scene. The STPB approached property developer Shaw Sung Ching and conceived the idea for Tropicana in 1966. For research, Shaw visited nightclubs and cabarets in Tokyo, Paris and Las Vegas; the design of Tropicana was inspired by the Mikado nightclub in Tokyo. The name Tropicana was chosen as it reflected Singapore’s tropical climate and environment.2
Shaw, who had made his fortune with the Hua Ta construction company, acquired a plot of land at 9 Scotts Road and demolished the residential block there (which was also once his residence).3 The construction of Tropicana on the 25,000 sq ft plot of land began in April 1967.4
The land and construction cost of Tropicana amounted to S$1.75 million, with another S$1 million put into equipping the complex. The four-storey building was developed by Shaw’s company Vermont Realty Ltd and designed by architects, Kee Yeap & Associates. Tropicana’s interior was designed by Filipino company, Will Fernandez & Associates.5
Tropicana was home to theatre-restaurant Orchid Lantern, which served Cantonese cuisine; Rasa Sayang, a restaurant-nightclub that served Indonesian and European food; Le Bistro, a cocktail lounge; and a VIP Lounge. Orchid Lantern, which was on the first level with the main stage, could accommodate 500 people, and also featured a dance floor. In the evenings, Rasa Sayang converted from a restaurant into a nightclub with a capacity of 200, with its own band and adjoining bar.6
Tropicana was designed such that patrons on different levels all had a view of the main stage, which measured 60 ft long and 16 ft wide, with platforms elevated at 20 ft. Constructed and installed by Japanese engineers, the stage had features that allowed it to revolve and be elevated. Wall-to-wall carpeting, chandeliers, a rock garden with a wall fountain and a spiral staircase that led to Orchid Lantern were the other significant highlights of Tropicana’s lobby.7
Tropicana was opened on 30 March 1968 by STPB chairman P. H. Meadows. Tropicana’s owner, Shaw, said: “For the first time, the Republic is at par with the international night spots of Asia …We believe that such a complex will not only meet the needs of the most demanding nightclub goer, but will also become another added reason for the international traveller to want to come to Singapore”.8
The complex’s opening act featured Japanese revue Les Folies du Tropicana, a group of 14 showgirls including lead singer Itojo Kumano and a male dancer, who performed songs from popular Broadway musicals of the time.9
Singstar Associates, headed by promoter Fred Eu, was Tropicana’s first show agent. Eu and Shaw interviewed and previewed revues worldwide before booking them and brought in a diverse range of acts from French revues to flamenco performers.10 Among the acts that performed at Tropicana were the Peter Jackson Revue from France, Ballet de Bueno Aires from Argentina, Paco de Lucio Spanish Ballet from Spain, Japan’s Midnight Roses, and Les Sonnets from South Korea.11
Popular singers who performed at Tropicana included Tony Martin, Johnny Mathis, Pat Boone, Lulu, Perez Prado and jazz great, Duke Ellington, while American singer and actor, Frank Sinatra visited the complex.12 In 1971, Tropicana brought in renown jazz musician Count Basie, his 17-piece orchestra and a singer for a one night only performance. Tickets were priced at S$85, which were the most costly for a performance in Singapore at the time.13
Besides revues and pop singers, Tropicana also featured keroncong (a musical form from Indonesia) ensembles, fashion shows, Sunday tea dances, acrobats, magicians, dagger and fire jugglers, beauty pageants and comedy acts. Tropicana’s music was by way of the Tropicana Orchestra, a 12-piece orchestra conducted by Aris Salvador, that comprised Romy Katindig and the Hi-Chords, Jose Daroya and the Gay Blades, Vittorio’s Blue Six and the Luciano Quartet.14
Decline and closure
Tropicana enjoyed a full house each night for its first three years,15 but the novelty of its shows began to wear off as competing nightclubs such as the Neptune at Shenton Way and Golden Million at Peninsula Hotel started their own topless revues.16 By the mid-1970s, Tropicana’s management noted that the proportion of locals in their audiences had dwindled, with mostly tourists attending their shows. Tropicana also faced competition from newer nightclubs and discos, as well as the falling popularity of revues.17
Although Tropicana was less frequently filled to capacity, it remained profitable until its closure. By 1984, Shaw had already begun to seek buyers for Tropicana, and the complex was sold in February 1989 for S$70 million to LET Pacific, a Hong Kong property company. Tropicana’s last day of business was 31 May 1989.18 Pacific Plaza shopping centre was eventually developed on the land.19
1. Mok, S. P. (1967, August 2). First of its kind in S.E. Asia. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Tan, O. B. (1989, May 31) Curtain falls on Tropicana, The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Frances, J. (2003, April 23). Goodbye, Mr Tropicana. Today, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Mok, S. P. (1967, August 2). First of its kind in S.E. Asia. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Mok, S. P. (1967, August 2). First of its kind in S.E. Asia. The Straits Times, p. 12; S’pore’s night life comes of age. (1968, March 30). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Mok, S. P. (1967, August 2). First of its kind in S.E. Asia. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Mok, S. P. (1967, August 2). First of its kind in S.E. Asia. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. S’pore’s night life comes of age. (1968, March 30). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Lavish floorshows to be brought in. (1968, March 30). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Frances, J. (2003, April 23). Goodbye, Mr Tropicana. Today, p. 4; Lavish floorshows to be brought in. (1968, March 30). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. A 'Paris' revue comes to Spore. (1968, June 4). The Straits Times, p. 4; Penari2 ballet dari Argentina akan menari di-Singapura. (1968, May 14). Berita Harian, p. 2; Tang, G. (1979, May 15). From sunny Spain — to warm the hearts. The Straits Times, p. 2; What those kimonos have been hiding. (1971, December 11). The Straits Times, p. 22; The six sweet notes of les sonnets. (1971, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. New look for theatre-restaurant complex. (1976, December 3). The Straits Times, p. 28; Frances, J. (2003, April 23). Goodbye, Mr Tropicana. Today, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. $85 to see Count Basie perform. (1971, January 7). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Lavish floorshows to be brought in. (1968, March 30). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Tan, O. B. (1989, May 31). Curtain falls on Tropicana. The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Chandran, K. (1988, February 5). Dance revues losing their glitter. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Chandran, K. (1988, February 5). Dance revues losing their glitter. The Straits Times, p. 3; Strip shows losing a bit of their sizzle. (1979, October 19). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Tan, O. B. (1989, May 31). Curtain falls on Tropicana. The Straits Times, p. 27; Lim, E. H. (1989, February 23). HK firm buys Tropicana for $70m. The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. $140m building for Tropicana site. (1990, November 14). The Straits Times, p. 44. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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