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“Nu Men: The Wild Woman Sings” by Judee Tan

June 9, 2014

JudeeTanNumen1Event: “Nu Men: The Wild Woman Sings” by Judee Tan (as part of the Esplanade’s “Flipside 2014”)
Venue: Esplanade Recital Studio
Run: 6th & 7th July 2014

Walk On The Wild Side

There are a fair number of ways in which people have currently come to know Judee Tan.

Perhaps her breakout role was when she first spoofed Ris Low as her fictitious sister Ivory Low Ai Kiu in the “Chestnuts” series back in 2009, a recording of which eventually turned into a viral video on YouTube.

Judee then went on to reprise the hit character in subsequent editions of “Chestnuts”, as well as play a host of other wacky personalities in the ever-popular spoof comedy franchise.

There were also the TV appearances as multiple characters in “The Noose”, as well as being the co-lead in Toy Factory’s big stage production of the “881” musical in 2011.

But for fans of stage comedy, Judee is perhaps nowadays most affectionately known as the zany and ultra-lovable Dr Teo Chiew Muay (“TCM” for short), who first made an appearance at “The Hossan Leong Show 2” in 2010 and has never failed to leave audiences in stitches every time she makes an appearance, either in “The Hossan Leong Show” or in Dream Academy’s “Happy Ever Laughter”.

But beneath the wackiness of it all…who ultimately is Judee Tan, and more importantly, was “Nu Men” going to finally reveal the woman behind the many masks?

The Esplanade Recital Studio has been the scene of many an intimate solo show over the years.

There was Emma Yong’s “From Bjork to Broadway” in 2005, Pam Oei’s “PAMdemonium” in 2006, and even Dick Lee’s “The Adventures of the Mad Chinaman” in 2011 just to name a few, all of which managed to peel away the layers and offer us a glimpse of the person beneath the persona, and one wondered if “Nu Men” would offer the same.

The show starts quirkily enough, with band leader Julian Wong suddenly “realising” that Judee isn’t yet ready to come on stage, and having to stop the band and step forward to say a few words to the audience, shortly after which Judee bursts through the back door apologetically while belting out her opening number, albeit in apparent hasty fashion, having not even changed into her performance outfit yet.

Ah, that’s the Judee we’ve come to know alright.

Judee then goes on to share snippets of her theatre journey with the audience in between song numbers, like how she studied Theatre Studies and Drama in VJC, and how she came to fall in love with the stage and even went on to further her dramatic studies in the UK a few years back.

Her natural affinity and talent for the stage has thus far been undeniable, and the full house in the Recital Studio was a testament to how far Judee has come in terms of being a star in the eyes of theatregoers here.

Her chemistry with maestro Julian Wong is also unmistakeable, as they’ve both worked together numerous times in the past, and had even done a previous Flipside show back in 2010.

It is fairly apparent that Judee’s singing voice has improved markedly in the last four or five years since I first saw her perform, even when compared to her performance in “881” the musical.

She’s developed for herself a full-bodied belt (which serves her well in a cabaret like this full of showtunes) with a hint of vibrato, and excels particularly in the middle registers, although there could still be slight room for refinement in the delivery of the high notes, as well as diction in certain lyrics.

The choice of songs for the show was not exactly mainstream, with songs like Meadowlark (from “The Baker’s Wife”) and Surabaya Johnny (by Kurt Weill) probably not familiar to most of us, not to mention Flight by Sutton Foster, which kind of served as a vague narrative parallel for the show in bringing out how Judee learnt to conquer her inner demons while learning to grasp the song.

There was, however, the entertaining “nu men” medley midway through the show though, which drew from many popular songs while substituting the lyric “women” for “nu men”, although I suspect most of us might still be none the wiser after the show as to what a “nu men” actually is supposed to be.

The other part which was thoroughly enjoyable was hearing Judee completely nail “Defying Gravity” towards the end of the show, and it is quite obvious that it’s a song which Judee is thoroughly comfortable with.

Perhaps the most revealing segment of the proceedings was when Judee shared about her abusive relationship of around ten years ago and how she struggled with great difficulty to break away from it, and I thought it really helped in giving us a far deeper level of insight into the woman that we’ve probably never ever had the chance to have before.

So it all begets the question – at the end of the 60-minute show, have we come any closer to knowing the real Judee, the one beneath the TCMs and the Ivory Lows and the Kim Bong Chas?

The short answer is “somewhat”.

Although the show did suffer slightly from peculiar song choices, awkward costume changes, as well as a rather murky narrative, what is undeniable as one steps out of the Recital Studio is that Judee Tan is a rare talent like no other, and while we’re used to seeing her play zany, out-of-this-world caricatures on stage, therein lies a far deeper, more thoughtful and more sophisticated (albeit sometimes wild) soul who has made it through thus far in life despite the many obstacles along the way, and not without the help of many of her closest friends.

It was a raw, honest and gritty performance that didn’t always make for comfortable viewing and may have taken quite a few people by surprise, but then again, real life as we know it isn’t always a bed of roses either.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Anon permalink
    June 10, 2014 10:38 pm

    Eh? Her abusive relationship was 10years ago??? Oops I thought she said between 2013-2014, no?

    • Jeremy permalink*
      June 10, 2014 10:41 pm

      I thought I heard her say 10 years ago…ha.

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