Dolly Good Christmas

Actress Selena Tan (centre) on Denise Tan (left) replacing the late Emma Yong in the Dim Sum Dollies. The third member is Pam Oei (right).

Having a conversation with the Dim Sum Dollies is a little like listening to stand-up comedy in three-part harmony.

The wickedly funny trio of Selena Tan, Pam Oei and new addition Denise Tan are already beginning to get a sense of their new rhythm and chemistry.

It helps that Denise Tan, 38, has watched every single Dollies show since the act debuted in 2002 at the Esplanade Recital Studio, titled A Single Woman.

The actress and radio DJ first stepped in to replace the late actress Emma Yong (with her blessing) in 2011 for Dream Academy's Crazy Christmas revue. Yong had bowed out of the show because of a cancer relapse.

Now, Denise Tan has officially become one of the Dollies.

The act had taken a break after Yong's death in May last year from late-stage sto- mach cancer. The much- loved actress, who was 37, had been a crucial third of the troupe.

Denise Tan says fitting in has been a very natural process, having taken part in the act before. "I don't think it's been very different from any of the times I've rehearsed with them. It's been like 'come, let's rehearse', 'is this funny?', 'can we get our notes right?'"

And she says stepping into Yong's shoes has not been as stressful as it might seem. "It's not a big deal. A lot of people might think it's a very big deal, but the funny thing I've discovered is that - it's not."

Actress-director Selena Tan, 40, adds: "I made sure that every step of the way, I'd inform Emma's family about anything... Her sisters said, 'But of course, we didn't think otherwise. You should go ahead. That's what Emma would have wanted.'

"It's true, because Emma and I had discussed it and we had also discussed including Denise. I don't think she would have wanted it any other way."

The Dollies, who were speaking to Life! at the Dream Academy office space, will do a few comedy sketches at this year's Crazy Christmas, themed Ting Tong Belles, which runs from Dec11 to 22 at the Esplanade Theatre, before returning with a full-length show in the final quarter of next year.

Selena Tan, who is the founder of Dream Academy, describes the transition as having been quite "seamless" and says that their Crazy Christmas act gives them some time to settle into their new formation. "We get the chance to do this now on a smaller scale."

"So it cuts us some slack," says Oei, 41, completing her sentence.

Selena Tan continues: "It allows us this time, which is an emotional time, the opportunity to settle in and deal with the fact that we are a new group, we are the Dim Sum Dollies version 2.0, so that next year is full steam ahead.

"We'll be constantly missing Emma, but we won't have to deal with this stage of our process. We can move on."

They turn to talking about happy moments with Yong, gleefully recalling an instance when she had been addicted to hot dogs from Cold Storage. But they also seem to have welcomed Denise Tan into the fold.

Selena Tan says with a grin: "Denise is very much a perfectionist and, in that sense, she's very close to Emma - they want to get it spot on. For us, it feels like Emma's spirit is still there... The feeling in the rehearsal room has been smooth."

Oei ponders this: "Perhaps it's the fact that they were both literature students."

Denise Tan says with a laugh: "But I wasn't an Angus Ross prize winner."

Yong had clinched the coveted prize as a teenager, which is awarded to the best performing non-British candidate in the A-level English Literature examination.

The Dollies have come a long way in the past decade, from a D-I-Y painted mountain setpiece to glitzy sequences that suspended them in mid-air at the 1,942-seat Esplanade Theatre.

Fans will be glad to know that their wit does not seem to have lost any of its zing with a change in membership.

"I remember that first show because I was in the audience, watching. You were Mother Teresa, Pam," Denise Tan exclaims, before trilling the chorus of "climb every mountain" from The Sound Of Music.

Selena Tan chimes in: "Oh my God, do you remember how difficult that mountain was to make?"

They erupt into excited chatter, recalling their favourite moments and characters, cycling through the five full-length shows that they have starred in as Singapore's most recognisable cabaret group.

Some of their most memorable sketches have included Maids In Heaven, where three Filipino maids fall to their death after cleaning HDB flat windows and end up in paradise, and Parking Pontianaks, which shed light on "summon aunties", the much-maligned parking inspectors.

Oei says of their debut in the Esplanade Theatre in 2004: "We had to stand behind the scrim and we could hear the audience - 2,000 people talking before the show is very different from 400 people talking before the show."

She gets out of her chair to strike a dramatic pose and demonstrate how her legs were shaking with nerves.

She adds, on a more serious note: "We keep on addressing issues that Singaporeans love to hear about. They really identify with it and it's almost like they are behind the Dim Sum Dollies.

"As Ivan Heng describes it so often, it's like a little razor blade hidden in a chocolate souffle or a cupcake. Because it's dressed up in sequins and feathers and shiny bits, it is very palatable, but then they bite and go - ow."

Selena Tan says: "I think the feeling the audience gets after the show is also one of joy and satisfaction. It's almost like, wow, we went on a journey, but at the end of the day, we don't feel bad about ourselves or our lives. There are things to think about and deal with but, hey, we still have it pretty darn good here."

The lighthearted Crazy Christmas revue also stars actresses Petrina Kow, Mina Kaye, Glory Ngim, Seong Hui Xuan and Judee Tan, with Sebastian Tan ("Broadway Beng") and Kumar doing stand-up comedy acts. A cappella group Vocaluptuous will be performing some hit numbers.

While the production is rated R18, there will be family-friendly shows featuring gifted 15-year-old singer Ruth Mathews, who will be replacing racy comedian Kumar for matinees.

And because it is the season of giving, there are plans to collect donations to aid those in need in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

There will also be donation boxes for the Emma Yong Fund, set up in aid of theatre practitioners with critical illnesses. The fund has raised $427,093 since its inception.

Lighting designer Suven Chan, 49, was a beneficiary of the fund. She was diagnosed with lymphoma and leukaemia last year, but is on the road to recovery and has received $30,000 from the fund for illness-related expenses.

Theatre company Wild Rice will also be accepting public donations to give underprivileged families in Singapore the gift of theatre. A donation of $250 will cover tickets to its pantomime, Jack & The Bean-Sprout!, for a family of four. Proceeds from eight of their shows will be set aside to benefit various local charity organisations.

Crazy Christmas and Jack & The Bean- Sprout! are two of many Christmas- themed productions taking place during the coming holiday season, including the popular concerts by the various orchestras in town. Here are 10 performances to check out in the festive season.

Book it

CRAZY CHRISTMAS TING TONG BELLES

Where: Esplanade Theatre

When: Dec 11 to 22, 8pm (Tuesdays to Fridays), 4 and 8pm (Saturdays), 2 and 6pm (Sundays)

Admission: $17 to $127 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

Info: Rated R18 for all shows, except for family-friendly matinees. Comedian Kumar will appear in all shows except matinees

Theatre, musicals and dance

Sing'theatre's A French Kiss In Singapore

What: This musical revue about love and all things warm and fuzzy features four popular performers in Singapore: George Chan, Robin Goh, Linden Furnell and "Singapore Boy" Hossan Leong. The quartet will be singing romantic melodies by four of France's favourite songwriters and composers: Charles Aznavour, Serge Gainsbourg, Jacques Brel and Charles Trenet.

Where: School of the Arts Drama Theatre

When: Wednesday to Dec 7, 8pm (Tuesdays to Sundays), also 4pm (Saturdays and Sundays)

Admission: $35 to $69 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

The Singapore Dance Theatre's Nutcracker

What: This year, the Singapore Dance Theatre presents one of the most beloved Christmas ballet classics with a twist.

This Nutcracker is set in turn-of- the-century Shanghai, just before World War I. The familiar characters, however, remain the same, including the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Snow Queen, Clara and the titular Nutcracker.

It features staging and choreography by the group's artistic director Janek Schergen set to Russian composer Tchaikovsky's instantly recognisable score.

Where: Esplanade Theatre

When: Dec 4 to 8, 8pm (Wednesday to Friday), 1 and 8pm (Saturday), 1 and 7pm (Sunday)

Admission: $30 to $70 from Sistic

Wild Rice's Jack & The Bean- Sprout! pantomime

What: In its annual Christmas pantomime, theatre company Wild Rice turns the classic story of Jack & The Beanstalk completely on its head.

Jack (Caleb Goh) and his mother Widow Neo (Darius Tan) are on the brink of poverty. But when Jack sells his beloved cow Ah Kow, he gets only a handful of green beans in return - until a huge beansprout shoots up in Marina Bay, high above the clouds - where a fearsome giant lives. Also featuring Karen Tan as the Golden Hits Harp and Siti Khalijah as Goose Mangat. Written by playwright Joel Tan and directed by Ivan Heng.

Where: Drama Centre Theatre, National Library Building, Level3

When: Till Dec 14, 7.30pm (Tuesdays to Fridays), 2.30 and 7.30pm (Saturdays and Sundays)

Admission: $45 to $75 from Sistic

Notre Dame de Paris

What: Based on Victor Hugo's heartbreaking novel, this French musical was created by lyricist Luc Plamondon and composer Richard Cocciante, and has been adapted into English by Will Jennings, who won an Academy Award for Titanic's hit theme song, My Heart Will Go On (1997).

This love story between the beautiful gypsy Esmerelda and Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame, has a soundtrack that has sold millions of copies across the globe.

Where: Grand Theatre, Marina Bay Sands

When: Dec 17 to Jan 5, 8pm (Tuesdays to Fridays), 2 and 8pm (Saturdays and Sundays), no show on Jan 1

Admission: $55 to $175 from Sistic

Info: www.baseentertainmentasia.com/notredamedeparis

Concerts and sing-alongs

This Joy: Singapore Lyric Opera's Children's Choir in concert

What: From the household favourite Silent Night to carols in French, Italian and Spanish, the Singapore Lyric Opera's (SLO) Children's Choir has put together a merry repertoire to ring in the festive season.

The evening will also feature the Opera Chorus, the SLO community singing group The Expressos as well as guest choirs from the SLO's Singing For All outreach programme, including schools such as C.H.I.J (Kellock), Geylang Methodist Primary School, Marsiling Primary School and White Sands Primary School.

Where: Esplanade Concert Hall

When: Dec 7, 7.30pm

Admission: $20 to $35 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

Singapore Symphony Orchestra's Christmas Concerts

What: The Singapore Symphony Orchestra's year-end tradition of Christmas concerts returns.

Together with the Singapore Symphony Chorus, the Singapore Symphony Children's Choir as well as Singaporean vocal soloist Ee-Ping, the orchestra will perform Christmas carols and melodies both old and new under the baton of conductor Jason Lai.

These include excerpts from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite No.1, Three Holiday Songs from the film Home Alone by composer John Williams and Bach's Christmas Oratorio (Part 1).

Where: Esplanade Concert Hall

When: Dec 10 and 12, 7.30pm

Admission: $15 to $93.75 from Sistic

Singapore Youth Choir Ensemble Singers presents Pagdiriwang with Jonathan Velasco

What: Filipino conductor and pedagogue Jonathan Velasco takes the baton for this concert of traditional Advent and seasonal texts, coupled with some new takes on classics.

Filipino choral composers also get their time in the spotlight, and the ensemble will be performing a new commission by John A. Pamintuan as part of the programme.

Where: Esplanade Concert Hall

When: Dec 11, 7.30pm

Admission: $22 to $32 from Sistic

T'ang Quartet: Take A Bet On T'ang

What: The award-winning Singapore string group T'ang Quartet are being especially enigmatic about their year-end concert this year, asking audience members and music lovers to "take a gamble" on their upcoming performance.

The quartet, which turned 21 this year, comprise Ng Yu-Ying on first violin, Ang Chek Meng on second violin, Leslie Tan on cello and Lionel Tan on viola.

Where: Esplanade Concert Hall

When: Dec 20, 7.30pm

Admission: $20 to $40 from Sistic

Info: www.tangquartet.com

Rhythm Of Christmas With Shun Ng & Lawrence Watson

What: Singapore-born guitar prodigy Shun Ng will team up with well-known American gospel singer and veteran educator Lawrence Watson for this pre-Christmas concert. They will showcase original compositions alongside well-known Christmas classics.

Ng, 23, is known for fusing elements of funk, fingerstyle, blues, jazz and motown into his guitar performances.

Where: Drama Centre Theatre

When: Dec 22, 8pm

Admission: $39 to $69 from Sistic

Sing Messiah: Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra

What: Handel's Messiah (1742) is constantly in demand for sing-along events all over the world. The Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra will be presenting the work under the baton of Adrian Tan. Joining them are the Celebration Chorus, the National University of Singapore Society Choir as well as local vocal soloists.

Audience members will get to sing during selected choruses, with vocal scores and rehearsal tracks to be made available online. They will also get to choose between "audience" and "singers" when buying tickets, which will lead them to different seating arrangements in the concert hall.

Where: Esplanade Concert Hall

When: Dec 22, 5pm

Admission: $15 from Sistic

Info: www.esplanade.com/singmessiah

corriet@sph.com.sg


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