It's just another ordinary night spent sweating over an econs essay when Catherine's phone rings.
"I have an idea," says Reggie.
"No," says Catherine, and hangs up.
Reggie calls back. "Catherine, I have an idea. Wait, wait! Don't hang up on me yet!"
Catherine sighs and tucks her cell between her ear and her shoulder, pulling up another powerpoint slide on her laptop. "Your last idea got all of us in detention for two weeks, and we only avoided suspension because Pinky and Kerry batted their eyelashes and cried to the principal."
"This one is a good one, I promise," Reggie wheedles, and Catherine rolls her eyes. "Sure."
"It'll get us back in the principal's good books."
"I'm thinking that we get the detention gang together - "
"For the last time, don't call us the detention gang - "
"And we put on a play for the school's thirtieth anniversary Founders Day ceremony."
"A play," says Catherine, extremely slowly. "You want us to put on a play."
"A play I'm writing myself."
"You're writing a play for the Founders Day ceremony."
"Exactly! And I've already got everyone cast in my head. It'll be perfect. We'll be contributing back to the school community and showing everyone that the detention gang has wholesome hobbies."
Catherine's suspicion is piqued. "What exactly is this play about?"
"Well, you know how the school is built on historical ground?"
"It's a theatrical tribute to what stood on this ground fifty years ago!" Reggie enthuses.
"And what, pray tell, stood on this ground fifty years ago?"
"The Tropicana nightclub!"
Catherine hangs up again.
The next day at school sees Amanda sliding into the seat next to Catherine's during Math period. "Did you hear of Reggie's idea?"
"Unfortunately," answers Catherine. "You can't tell me you think it's a good idea."
Amanda grins. "I think it'll be fun," she replies. "He's giving me a role that lets me sing. I can write my own music. Why not? It'll give us something to do during detention for the next two weeks."
"Do you really think the principal is going to let us on stage, on one of the most important days on the school calendar, in front of the school and guests of honour, to perform a play in tribute to an entertainment complex that brought Singapore its first topless revues?"
Catherine buries her face in her hands. "Am I the only one who thinks this is doomed for failure?"
The answer, it turns out, is a resounding yes.
"This is awesome," Sat Kee gushes, poring over the script. "I get a flute solo! Reggie wrote me a flute solo!"
Kerry frowns, peering over his shoulder. "What's a flute doing in a cabaret? And why are Pinky and I the dancers?"
"You're kidding me, right?" Pinky winks and throws an arm around Kerry's shoulders, kissing her on the cheek. "We're the hottest in the detention gang. It wouldn't be realistic if we weren't the dancers."
"I'm the asshole who does a one-eighty and redeems himself, that's so me," Jeff says, sounding pleased. "Ooh, I even get to wear leather boots."
"Hey, I want to wear leather boots!" Vernon sounds genuinely offended, pushing his chair over to Jeff so he can look through the script with him. "Ima, did you see you and Sat Kee have a romance written?"
There are varying noises of disgust from around the room. Reggie holds up his hands. "I thought it was interesting!"
"It looks so unrealistic," Muthu comments, flicking through the pages. "There's no development between them and then suddenly they break up because they both want different things and then Ima gets married to some American... what?"
"Do we have enough time for rehearsals? Founders Day is in a month, and we need to do the sets and songs and costumes and rehearsals and - "
"Okay, wait, stop, hold on," Catherine says over everyone's chattering. "There is a problem here."
Everyone stares up at her with expressions of confusion. They look genuine. She isn't sure whether she'd be more aggravated if they weren't. "What is it?"
Catherine pinches her nose and tries not to explode. "Reggie, you haven't even asked the principal if we can put up a play for Founders Day! And the answer is going to be no! Not after you tried to booby-trap every single door on the school compound and disrupt an entire school day! We were almost suspended and you think they'll let you put up a play on Founders Day? Listen, Reg, if the principal says yes I'll buy all of you Island Creamery after detention today!"
"If you can't afford individual tubs of ice cream for all of us we can share," Muthu offers as they're making their way to detention. He sounds sincere about it, but it doesn't tame Catherine's irritation very much. Reggie's grinning like he just won the lottery. "No take-backs!"
"The only reason he's letting you put up the play is because nobody else wants to perform for Founders Day," Catherine reminds Reggie, who cheerfully ignores the fact. "I think we should start working on the songs in detention today. Jeff, Amanda, Vernon, you guys up for the task?"
"Are we ever," Amanda grins. She's already tapping a rhythm out on her thigh. "Hey, do we get CIP hours for this?"
"We get CIP hours, but detention stays the same," Ima says, to everyone's groans. "At least we have blocks of time out to rehearse!"
Kerry notices Catherine's glum expression and laughs, bumping her shoulder. "Don't look so down, Cat, this will be fun! What's the worry?"
"Something will go wrong, I just know it," mutters Catherine, but trails behind the rest anyway.
Detention hour is usually quiet, but this time around there's a lot of buzzing and humming and some singing. Kerry tries out a couple lyrics from I Swear On Ganja and she sounds beautiful, but it makes Catherine balk. "Did the principal approve this script?"
"Of course," Reggie says, and she raises her eyebrows. "He approved a script where the cast sings a song glorifying marijuana."
Reggie straightens up to his full height. "It's a true-to-life historical tribute to the sexy Singapore sixties."
"Please never say that again," Catherine sighs, and goes back to editing the script.
They finish serving five days' worth of detention on Friday. After they're let out, they all head to Amanda's place to carry on rehearsing, because she's the only one who's got understanding parents who didn't lose their shit when their kid came home with a detention notice. They all split up to do their own work.
Reggie attempts to choreograph Kerry and Pinky's dances. They shut him down pretty quick.
"You couldn't choreograph to save your life," Kerry says frankly.
"You can't even do the chicken dance without tripping over your own feet," adds Pinky.
He looks wounded. "I'm the playwright!"
"Exactly," snaps Kerry, bending over backwards to do her stretches. "Not the choreographer. Now go away and we'll show you our sequence when we're done."
Reggie narrows his eyes. "If I leave you two alone in Amanda's guestroom, you'll just end up making out for ages."
Pinky waltzes over, putting one hand dangerously low on Kerry's hip. "Correct. And if you don't leave us alone, we'll start making out in front of you."
The door slams. Reggie is out into the hallway before she can finish the sentence.
Reggie attempts to help Amanda, Jeff and Vernon with songwriting. It starts promisingly enough.
"Sure," Vernon says languidly, tossing him a sheaf of paper. "Check this out - the reprise of Tropicana. We put it in a minor key to suit the tone of the scene. Give it a try."
Reggie blinks, not comprehending. "A try?"
Jeff rolls his eyes. "Yes, Reg, a try, as in try to sing it. You can't write songs if you don't have a tune."
"Um. Okay," Reggie says hesitantly, clearing his throat and squinting at the scribbles on the paper. "Dream of the Tropicana, where - "
"Stop," the three of them chorus at once before he can even finish one line. Vernon looks horrified, like he's just realised what a mistake he made. "Go and help Muthu instead or something. Go."
Reggie sighs and leaves.
Reggie attempts to help Ima and Sat Kee with the costumes. It's actually mostly Ima's job, but there are a lot of things to sew and trim and hem and Sat Kee is really handy with a needle, so he's busy wrestling with some fabric when Reggie enters the dining room.
Ima happily welcomes his help. "Kerry's costume needs work. We just got the matching tulle in and it needs to be sewed on to the leotard. When you're done you can put the buttons on the front of house uniforms."
"Okay," Reggie agrees, scooping up the tull and looking around for a sewing machine. There are none in Amanda's study. Reggie squints and looks around one more time, and Sat Kee glances up at him. "What are you looking for?"
"Sewing machine," Reggie says, and Sat Kee snorts. "There isn't one, stupid. Ima, can you pass him the needles and thread?"
Reggie stares blankly at the proffered box of supplies. "But... Ima."
"I don't know how to hand-sew."
Sat Kee and Ima both turn to stare at him with immense pity and scorn in their expressions for a good ten seconds. He can't say he blames them.
Reggie attempts to help Muthu with the set and logistics.
"The AV people refuse to work with you," Muthu tells Reggie, who's a little horrified. "Why?"
Muthu raises an eyebrow. "Reg, in Sec One you opened a box of moths in the AV room when the projector was running."
"Right." Reggie sighs. "Can I work on the set?"
"Sure," Muthu replies, adjusting his footing on the ladder so he can reach a particularly tricky spot on the backdrop. "You can paint the car frame from the driving scene. It's lying on the floor."
Reggie takes a step back to look around. "Where is i - "
The next moment he hears an ominous crunching sound beneath his feet. He and Muthu both freeze, and Reggie looks down where he's standing - on the crushed cardboard that was once the frame of the car windshield.
There's silence for a moment, then Muthu sighs. "Reggie - "
"I'm the playwright," Reggie moans to Catherine, who's checking on the budget. "How come I can't help anyone with anything?"
"You're the playwright," Catherine agrees, punching numbers into her calculator. "Stay in your lane and let the others do their job."
Reggie looks up at Catherine and sighs. "You still think something's going to go wrong, don't you."
"Absolutely," she says cheerfully. "If you want to be useful, go and do a coffee run at Starbucks. I want a caramel macchiato without whipped cream, and shake some cinnamon powder over it."
"I'm not a coffee boy," Reggie says indignantly, but goes to get his wallet.
They spend their second Monday detention surveying the school hall, where Founders Day is being held.
"There's not enough space for the First and Last and Everything dance sequence," Kerry complains.
"I don't think the backdrop will fit," Muthu grumbles.
"The bass needs boosting," Jeff snaps.
"There's not enough space in the wings for snap costume changes," Ima mutters.
"Told you," Catherine whispers.
"Fuck," Reggie sighs.
It comes to the principal's attention that they're spending detention hours planning the play.
"Now let's be clear that I admire your zeal and proactivity," he tells them, which, of course, is a prelude to a but.
"But," he continues, and there is a collective sigh.
Because they're a late entry to the Founders Day performances, they get last pick of rehearsal periods. Most of them clash with detention, or clash with CCA, or clash with enrichment and remedial, or are just really late.
Catherine draws up a full cast timetable with Reggie fretting over her shoulder. "There's no way around it, you'll just have to have incomplete attendance for actual onstage rehearsals or tech or dress."
"Nooooo," Reggie groans, dragging his hands down his face.
"At least it's being staged," Catherine says crisply, shoving the timetable into his chest. "Congratulations on your theatrical debut. Two weeks to D-day."
A week before Founders Day, right after their detention period ends, Pinky trips down the stairs and twists her wrist, and Sat Kee comes down with gastroenteritis. In the three days it takes for him to recover, Vernon catches the common cold. Even Catherine begins to feel bad for Reggie, who's starting to look perpetually stressed.
"Kerry's costume isn't fitting her right no matter how many alterations Sat Kee makes, and Jeff still can't remember some of his lines, and I feel like I'm going to puke every time I go on stage," Reggie groans, stamping around backstage. "How are we supposed to pull this off in - " He whips out his phone and glares at the screen. "Two days! Founders Day in two days! How?!"
And Catherine surprises herself by saying - "who cares?"
Reggie turns to stare at her. "What?"
She shrugs. "We've put in our best. We've been practicing hard and doing our all. Maybe it won't be perfect, but we've created something pretty good, even if I didn't believe we could do it. We're not doing this for the principal or for the school, not really, Reg. We're doing it for us. Isn't that enough?"
"Huh," he says non-committally, but the light's back in his eyes.
D-day arrives on a Saturday, when most of the student body is congregating in the hall and the performers are backstage rushing around fuelled by the familiar pre-show adrenaline.
The teacher in charge checks in with Reggie and Catherine, looking harassed. "You're fourth on the card, after Diversion finishes their set, got it? Be ready!"
"I'm not ready," Reggie moans. Catherine smacks him on the arm. "Too bad. Get your suit on and get ready. I'm going to go check in on Pinky and Kerry."
"I'd be lost without you!" He calls as she disappears off. Catherine rolls her eyes, but smiles against her will.
They're all holding their breaths when Diversion moves off stage. The emcee banters a bit, then says the magic words.
"Presenting - Tropicana the Musical, by The Detention Gang!"
"Oh my god, really," Catherine hisses under her breath, then glances at everyone standing behind her, ready to enter from the wings. She exchanges a quick glance with Reggie, who lets a grin spread slowly across his face. He claps his hands once.