A tale of two showgirls marching to their own beat

They’re BOLD, AMBITIOUS and HAVE SASS – not unlike the showgirls they play in Tropicana The Musical. Actresses Sharda Harrison and Seong Hui Xuancan teach us a lot about what it takes to win at life.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

They’re BOLD, AMBITIOUS and HAVE SASS – not unlike the showgirls they play in Tropicana The Musical. Actresses Sharda Harrison and Seong Hui Xuancan teach us a lot about what it takes to win at life.

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Confidence is everything, so own it

Sharda Harrison rocks up to the interview on a skateboard. In a floaty white skirt. It’s an incongruous combination, but on her, it works. “You’ve got to have confidence, be comfortable in your own skin,” she says.

That belief has worked for her, considering her latest role takes her far out of her comfort zone. In Tropicana The Musical – based on the iconic topless nightclub of the 1960s – the 29-year-old actress plays Pinky, one of a pair of showgirls.

“I’ve never done a musical before. I’m a very physical person – very comfortable with my body and voice acting. But singing is something else. So it was an opportunity to take vocal lessons and exercise that muscle,” says Sharda.

Fake it till you make it

For Seong Hui Xuan, developing the backstory of the other showgirl, Kerry – who’s on the hunt for the rich guy who will be her ticket to a better life – was extremely tough. She was not used to scriptwriter Haresh Sharma’s collaborative style of devising characters and script, which requires actors to improvise over a series of workshops.

“I was worried I would run out of things to do and say. I also had to take the other actors’ lead on things – to see how far they would push it, and what the dynamics were. The most important thing about improvisation was to listen and accept what other actors were offering me,” says the 29-year-old.

Be a change-maker – with a heart

Compassion and understanding are what Hui Xuan hopes people will take away from her performances. When she was first cast as Kerry, her initial instinct was to label the character’s pursuit of a rich husband as “unfeminist”.

It was her boyfriend who gave her a different perspective. “He said that for her time, she was considered quite progressive. She would have been a woman with ambition. Our modern sensibilities can be quick to condemn people,” she observes.

Sharda agrees. It’s why Tropicana The Musical – with its daring reputation and motley crew of characters – appeals to them. “I think at first, we want to judge the characters, but the challenge is – how do we create empathy for them, so the audience can see many perspectives?”

It’s all about #squadgoals

Sharda and Hui Xuan have undeniable chemistry, and that’s all down to playing to each other’s strengths, they say – especially when you have to build the relationship between your characters, and the world they inhabit, from scratch.

“Sharda is really good at coming up with outrageous ideas on the spot, so you would tend to follow her lead,” says Hui Xuan.

“Well, she’s turned the plot a few times,” quips Sharda. “I’m very domineering. I think that’s why my character has evolved into this crazy person who’s really out there. But with a partner [in Hui Xuan], I need to pull back a bit. It’s a dance you have to constantly negotiate.”

Don’t back down

Especially when it comes to your dreams. Hui Xuan would know. She gave up her place at the National University of Singapore after a semester to pursue musical theatre at Lasalle College of the Arts. She’s never regretted it, although detractors told her to get a “real job”. But Hui Xuan remains unfazed. “I’m so stubborn, I’d just do it, anyway. If you love something, and go at it hard enough, you can change perceptions.”

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