The idea behind one of Singapore's most well-loved theatre shows Broadway Beng, which marks its 10th anniversary this year, sprang from an intimate late-night poolside conversation in Langkawi in 2003 among actors Sebastian Tan, Selena Tan and a group of friends.
Speaking to The Straits Times in between rehearsals for his upcoming show, the 42-year-old actor recalls: "They wanted to get to know me better, so I started telling them my personal stories, which I thought were tragic, and they just burst out laughing.
"It made me think about whether I should even be friends with them, but they said, 'You have to do a show, man.'"
He also took the mike to tell jokes in Hokkien and sing while intoxicated at Selena Tan's 2005 wedding to her husband John Pok. The actress approached him to work on the revue later on.
It debuted in 2006 after the actor returned from performing in Miss Saigon in Britain. Broadway Beng was an immediate hit with audiences, who warmed to his soaring vocals and unique blend of English and Hokkien comedy.
"Back then, it wasn't common to mix stand-up comedy with your life. The first show was so nerve- racking. (Selena and I) both tried to throw up, but nothing came out," he says, laughing.
Since then, he has performed the revue several times in sold-out runs at the Drama Centre Theatre and once at the 2,000-seater Esplanade Theatre in 2009 in a $1-million show directed by film-maker Royston Tan.
He has also taken the act on a slew of guest appearances, including the National Day Parade in 2013.
Next week, Broadway Beng will take the stage again for a concert at the Capitol Theatre.
Ticket sales have been strong, with the first show already sold out, a sign of the Beng's enduring popularity, says actress Selena Tan, 44, who heads Dream Academy. It manages the Broadway Beng productions and Dim Sum Dollies franchise. Her husband is its general manager.
A film crew will also be at the first few shows to capture footage for the Broadway Beng movie, which tells the story of how he came about. It is directed by Selena Tan and is tentatively slated for release in 2018.
She says: "People feel an affinity for Broadway Beng's personality and voice. When he sings in Hokkien, especially, he really does bring out that raw emotion. And that's what we're going for. To have comedy, but fewer gimmicks and frills, and to speak sincerely.
"You can see his appeal in the types of audiences that come in. We get a lot of ah mas, ah gongs and aunties too. It's at least three generations of people."
The actor has helped out with audience members' wedding proposals and birthday celebrations as Broadway Beng, but his fondest memory is of meeting a group of cancer survivors in the audience. "They told me, we came to your show because we want to laugh. So it made me feel there's a higher purpose to what we do. Broadway Beng has healed and brought people in love together," he says.
In the upcoming two-hour show, he will cycle through 22 songs, covering everything from Hokkien ditties to English classics to Mandopop songs from the Four Heavenly Kings. He will also perform an original Hokkien song written by getai star Hao Hao and composer Elaine Chan.
"It's a concert setting so audiences can bring drinks in, so we encourage everyone to do so to enjoy themselves even more. It'll be more intimate. I'll bring my wine in and talk to them and celebrate the last 10 years," he adds.
The show will also feature actresses Chriz Tong, 31, Frances Lee, 25, and Munah Bagharib, 28, as the sassy, sequinned Broadway Beng's "chio bus" (Hokkien for pretty women). His co-stars will sing and dance with him.
Tong says: "Broadway Beng is Sebastian's persona, but it's also a big part of who he is. It's like a magnified, more fabulous version of him."
Asked if there are plans to retire Broadway Beng any time soon, Selena Tan and Sebastian Tan laugh and let out yells of mock outrage.
The bachelor says: "Never. I always say, as long as there are people who still want to see me sing, even if it's just one person, I will continue. It depends on the fans."
BOOK IT /BROADWAY BENG:10TH ANNIVERSARY CONCERT
WHERE: Capitol Theatre, 17 Stamford Road
WHEN: Next Thursday to July 31, 8pm (Tuesday to Friday), 3 and 8pm (Saturday),3pm (Sunday);no show on Monday
ADMISSION: $48to $118 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)
This article was first published on July 05, 2016.
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