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Broadway Beng! Benging You Back to Basics

October 12, 2013

BroadwayBeng2013-1Event: Broadway Beng! Benging You Back to Basics
Venue: Drama Centre Theatre
Run: 10th – 27th Oct 2013

The Unbearable Lightness of Beng

Has it really been that long since Sebastian Tan’s last full-fledged “Broadway Beng” show?

A quick check on things reveals that the beloved Hokkien-spouting character last made a full-length appearance at the Esplanade Theatre in 2009 under the banner of “Broadway Beng – Jiak Liu Lian”, and this fact was also corroborated by Sebastian himself on stage tonight.

Of course, there was also the brief but all-too-memorable cameo on Dream Academy’s “Crazy Christmas” in 2011 where we were treated to a hilarious Santa-Claus-meets-Broadway-Beng hybrid, but the fact remains that this wildly popular of a stage creation has been away from the stage for far too long.

Which perhaps explains why it was a virtual full house tonight, with tickets for subsequent shows selling out fast even as the show extends its run all the way till 27th Oct.

“Broadway Beng” dominates a niche all on its own and its target audience is fairly well-defined.

It appeals mainly to the middle-aged Singaporean, preferably familiar with the Hokkien dialect, who grew up through the 70’s and 80’s listening to popular Hokkien and Mandarin songs on the radio, and who would love nothing more than to see these old favourites being performed live – up close and personal.

And Sebastian Tan answers the bell beautifully with his enigmatic stage presence and soaring tenor voice, perfectly suited for belting out those old karaoke favourites.

There really isn’t a male voice in local theatre that quite comes close to his in terms of the ability to carry those Hokkien and Mandarin favourites with such flair and clarity.

He’s never really been a “Beng” as much as he has been a charming little down-to-earth, boy-next-door type who happens to be highly-proficient in conversing in Hokkien, and in highly entertaining fashion.

His lines may not be the wittiest, nor his jokes the cleverest, but it is ability to use Hokkien and English so interchangeably to great comic effect, as well as his ability to belt out one nostalgic hit after another at the drop of a hat that makes him such a well-liked stage persona.

He was flanked tonight by a bevy of beautiful actresses in the form of Denise Tan, Jacqueline Pereira, Judee Tan, Mina Ellen Kaye and Siti Khalijah – all talented stage performers in their own right.

And it was these ladies’ strong vocal abilities which allowed musical director Elaine Chan to pull off some of the more ambitious vocal arrangements, which worked out beautifully, and on the whole, the quality of vocal delivery and execution of harmonies by the entire cast was excellent.

As with the recent “Hossan Leong Show”, nostalgia was once again a dominant theme, with Broadway Beng revisiting a lot of the 70’s and 80’s.

There was an entire segment on the hit musical “Grease”, which would please fans of the musical no end, and there was also a segment on growing up a Centrepoint Kid while hanging out at Rumours disco, complete with a dance segment to signature 80’s tunes like “Domino Dancing” and “Brother Louie”.

And as if the proceedings weren’t entertaining enough, the show rolled out its ace in the hole midway through – the 8-year-old Ian Lee, an unbearably cute young boy with acting and singing chops that inevitably induced many an “awww” throughout the audience.

And in closing, Sebastian once again leaves the audience with the customary “Ai Pia Cia Eh Yia”, which has almost become somewhat of a rousing anthem at his shows.

It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve heard it being performed – it always hits right to the heart every time he delivers it.

Which is probably what the whole “Broadway Beng” experience is about – the idea of familiarity and intimacy, the sense that you have someone who has lived his whole life in Singapore, who has gone through all the experiences the average Singaporean has gone through, who totally speaks our lingo (and some!), and who isn’t afraid to share his most candid feelings and memories with the audience.

A lot may have changed in Singapore since 2009, but it’s comforting to know that our beloved Broadway Beng is still the same old effervescent, irreverent, heartland boy that we’ve always known him to be and loved him for.

And in an environment where nothing really stays the same for long, it’s nice to know that some things haven’t changed.

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