Unbearable goodness of Beng

Sebastian Tan (left) put on a good show with the help of his chiobus (above).
Sebastian Tan (left) put on a good show with the help of his chiobus (above).PHOTO: DREAM ACADEMY PRODUCTIONS

Theatre show Broadway Beng is into its 10th year and this concert shows exactly why the concept is enduring

REVIEW / THEATRE

BROADWAY BENG: 10TH ANNIVERSARY CONCERT BY DREAM ACADEMY

Capitol Theatre

Last Saturday

To celebrate a decade in show business, Broadway Beng, the well- loved English- and Hokkien-speaking theatre character, has put together a concert that is invigorating yet introspective, his trademark working- class humour punctuated by moments of tenderness.

  • BOOK IT / BROADWAY BENG: 10TH ANNIVERSARY CONCERT

  • WHERE: Capitol Theatre, 17 Stamford Road

    WHEN: Till July 31, 8pm (Tuesday to Friday), 3 and 8pm (Saturday), 3pm (Sunday)

    ADMISSION: $58 to $128 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: Go to www.dream academy.com.sg

As with his previous shows, actor Sebastian Tan delivered the easy laughs like a pro, from the moment he sauntered on stage in a gloriously flamboyant ruby red suit, trilling in Hokkien at the audience and teasing members about their age.

He also poked fun at himself: "I've been around for 10 years but I don't even have 2,000 Instagram followers. Star ah? Starfruit lah!"

The ravages of time may have swelled his waistline (a fact he hilariously acknowledged by popping the buttons on his suit), but they have not dented his energy or soaring vocals one bit. He reached effortlessly for the high notes in a rich, layered tenor.

Tan was just as at home belting out sing-along Hokkien ditties such as Ji Ba Pan and Cha Cham Bo as he was reprising musical numbers and English oldies such as Tina Turner's Proud Mary.

After talking about his childhood ambitions to be a pop star, he launched into a medley of Mandopop hits by the Four Heavenly Kings (Aaron Kwok, Leon Lai, Andy Lau and Jacky Cheung), apeing each singer's vocal tics and mannerisms perfectly.

The audience of mainly uncles and aunties lapped it up, waving their hands in the air like groupies when called upon by Tan.

Equally flawless in their vocal delivery were the deliciously campy chiobus, namely Chriz Tong, Frances Lee and Munah Bagharib, who provided great accompaniment throughout the night, especially on Tan's manic express send-up of the French musical Les Miserables.

The spoof was classic Beng fare, packed with malapropisms (Thenardier read as "Ta Ma De", Eponine as "Hei Bo Ni"), sly references to the authorities' axeing of a same-sex kiss scene and Moneymax pawnshops, and Tan breaking out in spontaneous refrains of songs such as I Dreamed A Dream and Kit Chan's National Day classic Home.

He also dedicated Elton John's Circle Of Life from the Lion King soundtrack to his late father, a pig farmer ("He told me: 'Ah Biu, don't be a pig's doctor. Be a human doctor', he recounted).

The performance had the audience in stitches, notably when the chiobus moved on stage and encircled Tan, each sporting animal headgear.

But beneath the mayhem and mirth, he also turned sentimental at times, most notably when he sang a poignant ode in Hokkien to his father. He recalled how he was weaned on old Chinese hits to the point that he got sick of them.

"My uncles and aunts would force me to sing them all the time. Never did I imagine that I would make a living from these songs."

The night drew to a close with his Broadway Beng song medley and a couple of Hokkien numbers, including crowd favourite Ai Pia Jia Eh Yia (You Have To Fight To Win).

Watching Tan switch joyfully between Hokkien and English on stage, I was reminded of what he said about Singaporeans: "We are not Eastern enough for China, but not Western enough for the ang mohs."

It is perhaps this that he taps into and celebrates so unabashedly, and which has made Broadway Beng such a success, one that is both endearing and enduring.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2016, with the headline 'Unbearable goodness of Beng'. Print Edition | Subscribe