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Flashily dressed as Sebastian Tan was, his three chio boos (Hokkien for pretty girls) - Chriz Tong, Frances Lee and Munah Bagharib - had even more resplendent costumes and backed him up with sassy showmanship.

Broadway Beng soars to Hokkien heaven

Jul 22, 2016 5:50 AM

NOT only was Sebastian Tan glamorous as the glittering Broadway Beng crooner, but equally fascinating were his male fans in the audience last Saturday night.

There was a big-sized, baseball jersey-wearing guy in his 20s beside this reviewer who clapped loudly after each set, while an older gentleman in his 40s (looking like an English-educated ACS type) behind me laughed heartily throughout the show and constantly explained words and phrases to his young daughter.

It's easy to see how Tan's Broadway Beng character would be an "auntie killer" with his sharp wit and puns and getai glitz, but it was really interesting to see how he appeals to the guys too, of all ages. Just as director Selena Tan of Dream Academy pointed out, first-timers to his show get evangelical about Broadway Beng, as evidenced by my companion to the show, who immediately started texting an elderly friend and her uncle and auntie to see the show. She knew they would appreciate his genre of music - "because they're from that era".

Tan had pulled out all the stops for the show, with his flamboyant costumes - the curtain-raiser was a Chinese New Year-red suit which had 3D floral design on it on one side. He took off the top jacket halfway, wearing a striped red-yellow vest, while he opened his second set with a glittering black-and-yellow suit - all designed by Frederick Lee. His three chio boos (Hokkien for pretty girls) - Chriz Tong, Frances Lee and Munah Bagharib - had even more resplendent costumes and backed him up with sassy showmanship.

The 1996 Talent Search winner - whose theatre credits include the UK tour of Miss Saigon, Army Daze, Forbidden City, the Crazy Christmas series, Fried Rice Paradise, and Tidoudao - crooned his way through his 10th anniversary concert, with over 20 songs in English, Hokkien, and East-West mashups.

Starting off in self-deprecatory mode, he lamented his lack of followers on Instagram and his thickening girth, and also how he got his own five-piece band only after 10 years in show business.

With a well-honed voice, Broadway pieces were performed with aplomb while Hokkien songs were melodiously sung. It was the ballads that tugged at the heartstrings - the diatonic lilts and turns of Hokkien music infusing the words with even more emotion. No wonder then that the best Hokkien songs tend to focus on love of all sorts, home, and nostalgia.

Highlights of the concert included a medley of Mandopop hits by the Four Heavenly Kings of Cantopop (Aaron Kwok, Leon Lai, Andy Lau and Jacky Cheung), where Tan also mimicked their mannerisms. He even got the audience of (largely) uncles and aunties to wave their hands, like in a pop concert.

Between songs, Tan did his glib stand-up comedy lines, playing on off-colour puns that came off as clever rather than chi ko pek (a brazen male flirt, according to A Dictionary of Singlish). The last set he did, to illustrate the East and West-ness of his act, was to sing a medley of Western and Asian songs - just one line each. Like a line from Miss Saigon, "you are the sun and I moon", followed by the classic line from Teresa Teng's The Moon Represents My Heart, and a couple of other moon-related songs. And that went on for a good five minutes - kudos to music director Elaine Chan.

For the unpretentious encore, Tan sang a new song composed by Chan with lyrics by getai star Hao Hao: a hauntingly melodious ballad which was a reminder of the cultural richness of Hokkien and proof that it needn't be campy and can be presented on a mainstream platform, appreciated by Singaporeans from all walks of life.

  • Broadway Beng is showing at Capitol Theatre until July 31. Tickets from S$58 from