BROADWAY BENG! BENGING YOU BACK TO BASICS
Drama Centre Theatre/Last Friday
There is a soft spot in every Singaporean's heart for the archetypal ah beng - the Hokkien-spouting youth with gold- streaked hair who is fast becoming something of a dying breed.
And so it comes as no surprise that Sebastian Tan's well-loved alter ego, Broadway Beng, with his soaring vocals and questionable fashion sense, combines the best of both Singapore's worlds.
His cosmopolitan West End refinement calls a happy truce with the heartlander in us all, revelling in the coarse texture of the Hokkien dialect and its many delightfully colourful vulgarities.
This fifth edition of Broadway Beng, which marks Tan's first full-length revue in four years, plays a great deal to Singapore's recent fascination with nostalgia. The set, for instance, features a replica of the mosaic dragon-themed playground in Toa Payoh, which has become one of the symbols of a vanishing physical heritage.
Tan brings out his usual bag of tricks, including the crowd-pleasing Broadway and getai medleys with many a Singaporean twist, but keeps most of his show focused on anecdotes from his childhood.
These range from his failed attempts at sporting success to even more failed attempts at becoming a "cool kid".
His strong supporting cast of "chio bus" (pretty girls) also flex their performing muscles with plenty of versatility and comic timing as they cycle through a wide range of roles.
There is a warm earnestness to Tan that makes his self-deprecating jibes work. He is a likeable performer, which helps to gloss over some of his uneven moments, including a few stumbles over his lines.
He also has a secret weapon and it comes in the form of the irresistibly adorable Ian Lee, eight, the pint-sized version of Broadway Beng right down to his tiny, glittery suits.
Ian first appears in a sketch that parodies the historical figure Justice Bao, reeling off a side-splitting joke related to a mathematics problem that will have most parents of primary-school pupils nodding their heads in glee.
He just about steals the show with every appearance, which means that Tan has to work a lot harder to win his audience's affection between scenes.
But fans of the Broadway Beng series will love the silly and (mostly) clean fun, even with its indulgent moments.
This reviewer's inner ah lian would describe it as "steady pom pi pi".
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