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From left: Leong (left) directs a dozen comedians in the stand-up comedy special Happy Ever Laughter, which also stars (second from left to right) Budhrani, Sebastian Tan, Kumar and Channa.
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From left: Dee Kosh, Mok and Suhaimi Yusof in Happily Ever Laughter.
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Rent has the biggest production and the largest cast and band numbers that Pangdemonium has put on to date.
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The hilarious and dazzling Monkey Goes West was a mega-hit in 2014, and will be restaged this November.

Battle of the blockbusters (Amended)

As the festive season nears, Singapore's top theatre companies are betting on big crowd-pullers to round up the year. Which of these to catch? We say, all three.
Oct 7, 2016 5:50 AM

Laughter is the best medicine

HAPPY EVER LAUGHTER
Oct 26 to Nov 6
Esplanade Theatre

HEARD the joke about the doctor, the syringe and Patricia Mok? Neither have we, but rest assured it'll be a good one when comedian Mok delivers her stand-up routine at Happy Ever Laughter, the biennial gathering of Singapore's best comedians at the Esplanade Theatre.

Produced by Dream Academy, Mok will be joined by the who's who of stand-up comedy, including Kumar, Broadway Beng, Siti Khalijah, Judee Tan, Dee Kosh and six others.

The show is being directed by funny man Hossan Leong who's working with a team of comedy writers that includes Mr Miyagi (Benjamin Lee), Edmund Tan and Alfian Sa'at.

Previous Happy Ever Laughter editions were a total knockout. The brash use of Singlish, the racy and often race-based jokes, and the comedians' unapologetically un-PC attitude were lapped up by the audience.

This year's third edition is themed on the medical profession, based on director Leong's belief that "laughter is the best medicine for a stressed-out Singapore. As it is, the world is so annoying with all the conflicts, hypocrisies and lies. So we've appointed ourselves the doctors of laughter for the whole nation. We want to heal your sorrows, make you overdose on our jokes, leave you in stitches."

The medical theme will be carried through by the team of 13 comedians - three of whom are new to the Happy Ever Laughter family. Mok will make her debut in the stand-up celebration with a routine on aesthetic surgery.

She reveals: "I'll be talking about Botox, wrinkle surgery and other forms of aesthetic treatments. I know a lot about these things, because I do it so often that (aesthetic surgeon) Georgia Lee has become a friend, and she tells me all kinds of things."

Leong has been urging Mok to spill the beans on her celebrity friends who've had Botox, but Mok won't. "My friends insist they don't do plastic surgery, but I can tell from just one look. Really, I don't know what the fuss is. There was a time when everyone was shy to admit it. But now people trade advice on which doctors to go to and which to avoid, which doctors make your face lumpy and which treatments let you recover quickly so you can wear make-up again."

The medical world is, in fact, rife with humour, says fellow comedian Rishi Budhrani: "My doctor did a full body check-up for me once and told me that it looked like I had an enlarged organ, and I might have gigantism. I thought she was flirting with me, until she clarified she was talking about my pituitary gland."

Asked if he's watching a lot of medical drama to prep for his upcoming routine, Budhrani quips: "I don't do medical dramas. I grew up in an Indian family. I'm married to fellow comedian Sharul Channa, who's also performing in the show. I've got enough drama in my life."

By Helmi Yusof

Amendment Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled Rishi Budhrani's second name as Budhari. The article above has been revised to reflect this.


Loud, proud and loving it

RENT
Oct 7 to 23
Drama Centre Theatre

RENT is regarded as one of the best musicals ever produced on Broadway, with its young, attractive cast of characters and terrific songs. But the show also happens to deal with very tough issues affecting young people living under the shadow of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s.

Reviving the production for its 20th anniversary is theatre company Pangdemonium, helmed by the husband-wife duo of Adrian and Tracie Pang. Ms Pang, who directs the production, says: "There was a period of time where HIV and AIDS were a hot topic of discussion, but that seems to have died down. There are still thousands of people out there catching the disease daily and it still needs to be talked about."

The musical, written by Jonathan Larson, tells the story of a group of impoverished artists in their 20s living in New York City's East Village, and is loosely based on Giacomo Puccini's opera La Boheme. The cast include Benjamin Chow as Mark and Cameron MacDonald as Roger.

"More than that, it's also about community and different people living in harmony together, which we can look at from a global perspective with peoples' reactions to Syrian refugees, and even at home, where we're concerned about foreign workers," says Ms Pang. "Hopefully, it'll send the message that we should be more accepting of everyone, regardless of their background."

Because it's such a popular production, she has endeavoured to stay true to its message but has "added a bit more choreography and focused the storyline slightly so it's easier to follow".

As the biggest production with the largest cast and band numbers that Pangdemonium has put on to date, it came with its own set of challenges. She explains: "There are 17 young people sharing the stage at the same time. Forget when they're on stage - when there's a pause during rehearsals, the noise level starts to rise and I have to manage it."

She adds: "But that's what happens when you have an excitable young cast. It's the flip side of having all that energy that reflects so brilliantly on stage."

As far as the local theatre scene goes, Ms Pang is optimistic. "I've been around for about 18 years, and have really seen the growth. Not just in size, but also in maturity. There's a huge variety of work out there, and that will lead to continued growth."

By Avanti Nim


Monkey's back to steal hearts again

MONKEY GOES WEST
Nov 18 to Dec 17
Drama Centre Theatre

ONE of the hottest shows of 2014 was Monkey Goes West. Supposed to be just another annual pantomime by theatre company W!ld Rice. But it somehow transcended all benchmarks to become a tour de force of low art and high camp, Singapore-style.

It also clinched The Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards for Best Production that year - a tie with Nine Years Theatre's Art.

Monkey Goes West is now set to be restaged next month with almost all of the original cast members except Lim Kay Siu.

Director Sebastian Tan says: "A lot of people didn't get a chance to see it the last time as the tickets were sold out. So of course we had to bring it back. I think Guan Yinma bo pi ('Goddess Guanyin bless us' in Hokkien) and helped turn it into such a hit."

Monkey Goes West is a 400-year-old, 2,000-page Chinese epic about the mythical Monkey King who journeys from China to India in search of sacred texts. But W!ld Rice's resident playwright Alfian Sa'at has localised it to centre on young orphan Ah Tang (Joshua Lim) who goes to Haw Par Villa and gets trapped in the theme park overnight.

To find his way back home in the West - um, Jurong West, that is - he enlists the help of his new, possibly imaginary friends, the Monkey King (Sugie Phua), Pigsy (Frances Lee) and Sandy (Siti Khalijah Zainal).

Director Tan promises the restaging will be even better than the first: "There will be new choreography from our choreographer Andy Cai, as well as new shadow puppetry by The Finger Players. The show is also playing at a bigger venue - Drama Centre Theatre instead of Victoria Theatre - so you could say it's a bigger production overall. It will, however, retain or have more of the fabulousness of the 2014 version."

Special effects will go into overdrive. If the original version wowed everyone by having characters flying on wires, Tan hopes to up that ante: "I had wanted Monkey to fly around more in the original version. But due to the lack of wing space in the then-new Victoria Theatre, he could only fly up and down. So I'm trying to see what I can do to improve this now that we're staging it in Drama Centre."

Incidentally, Tan - who's well-known for his comic persona Broadway Beng - is also doing a stand-up routine in Happy Ever Laughter (see story above).

Asked if working on two productions simultaneously was stretching him too thin, he quips readily: "I like being stretched and I'm used to it. I'm very flexible, you know - artistically and in all sense of the word."

By Helmi Yusof