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Army Daze

August 23, 2012

Event: Army Daze
Venue: Drama Centre Theatre
Run: 21st – 26th Aug 2012

Dazed And Amused

Few can say they are unfamiliar with the 1996 hit movie “Army Daze”, which not only still holds the record for the highest cinema takings for a local English-language film in Singapore, but has been given the ritualistic airing on national television every now and then.

Indeed, “Army Daze” the movie has entered the national consciousness and found itself a warm and indelible place in the hearts of Singaporeans like few other local films have.

The Ong Keng Sen-directed film was in actual fact based on the 1987 play by Michael Chiang, which in turn was based on Chiang’s best-selling humour book of the same title published in 1985.

And as part of the 25th anniversary of the inaugural stage play, producer Annie Pek and director Beatrice Chia-Richmond bring us a brand new iteration of this well-loved Singaporean tale, complete with new songs by Don Richmond.

This new production stars Dwayne Tan in the lead role of Malcolm, Shane Mardjuki as the effeminate Kenny, Chua Enlai as Corporal Ong, Siti Khalijah as Sergeant Khatib, Dennis Chew as Mrs Png, and Andrew Lua as Officer Heng, just to name a few.

It is hard to fight the urge to want to compare each character and scene in this production to what we remember from the film.

One might be sorely tempted to suss out if this Johari (Adi Jamaludin) is as good as Sheikh Haikel’s, or if this Kenny is as good as Kevin Verghese’s, or if Dennis Chew’s Mrs Png is as good as Margaret Chan’s.

Nonetheless, the comparisons didn’t seem to hurt this new production in any perceptible way, because the audience were literally in stitches right from the get-go.

“Army Daze” was, simply put, an absolute riot, and the solid casting had a lot to do with the show’s immense reception.

Siti Khalijah never fails to set a stage alight, and delivered the goods once again with her rendition of the new character Sergeant Khatib.

Chua Enlai was equally entertaining as the Corporal Ong who has a penchant for spouting utterly random and nonsensical adages.

Dennis Chew holds his own with a rock-solid portrayal of the over-doting Mrs Png, while Shane Mardjuki flexes considerable comedic muscle while channelling substantial doses of Maggie Lai from his last production “Purple” over onto the character Kenny.

The creative team was clever enough to incorporate many crowd-pleasing current references into this production, with mention of things such as iPhones, MRT breakdowns, maids carrying recruits’ fullpacks, and – yup, you know it had to happen – Oppa Gangnam Style!

However, “Army Daze” is not without its shortcomings.

The main cast of the five boys, while competent, just didn’t seem strong enough to shoulder the entire emotional load of the show, while it was the more peripheral characters like those played by Siti Khalijah, Chua Enlai, Dennis Chew, and Norleena Salim which gave the show its truly shining moments.

The song by the Filipina maid (played also by Siti) and the one by the recruits about having been born in China seemed totally out of place, as if they were inserted in merely for comic effect or to make a pointed statement.

And while “Army Daze” was rightfully a huge hit the past three decades, it’s hard to see how much mileage one can still wring out of a show comprising largely stereotypical Singapore caricatures in this modern day and age.

Does the cardboard cutout middle-class mummy’s boy or the chao Ah Beng or the easy-going, happy-go-lucky Malay boy still hold as much theatrical currency in today’s milieu?

Nonetheless, what makes “Army Daze” such a lovable and endearing production is the very fact that it has captured a subject that is close to the hearts of all Singaporean males (and many Singaporean females as well).

It is hard to watch the show and not reflect fondly back on your own time spent in the army and relive those precious moments – some funny, some sad, some painful.

“Army Daze” manages to do a fantastic job in capturing the essence of BMT life, and regardless of whether you’ve been through the army or not, you are guaranteed a night filled with fun, laughter, and hilarious entertainment.

National Service has never felt so entertaining.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 23, 2012 10:14 am

    赞!Less is MORE!

    You had given a good overview with some nostalgic comparison from the past.

    It’s nice to see your personal reflection in this review too! 😉

    • Jeremy permalink*
      August 23, 2012 1:42 pm

      Thanks once again, ST!

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