'Tis the season to be jolly

With dozens of Christmas concerts, plays and dance performances, we pick out the best shows to make you go ho ho ho.

A terrific pantomime for adults


W!LD Rice's latest pantomime is so full of socio-political barbs and zingers, we recommend it more for adults than kids.

Written by Joel Tan, the story is based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairytale The Emperor's New Clothes, about a vain and spoilt emperor who is tricked into wearing nothing but his birthday suit for the annual parade. In W!ld Rice's usual fashion, the tale has been localised, this time to reflect the leadership and governance of Singapore. There are plenty of superb jokes. But it takes a politically-aware adult to understand more than half of them.

At one point, the vainglorious Emperor (played by Lim Kay Siu) inspects a row of soldiers and poses different questions to them. He sizes up one soldier sternly and asks: "Is your mother a graduate?" Many adults broke into guffaws, recognising its send-up of the controversial 1984 Graduate Mothers Scheme, which gave preferential treatment in school registration to children of graduate mothers. But the kids in the audience looked baffled.

Similarly, when the Emperor talks of a "natural aristocracy" in the population - a reference to a contentious term used by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong earlier this year - the adults sniggered uncontrollably, while the kids were left in the dark.

Singers Benjamin Kheng and Sezairy play tailors who are so outraged by the Emperor's arrogance and detention of unwitting "dissidents", they decide to play a trick on him by convincing him to wear a fabric so fine as to be invisible.

Along the way, spot-on political jokes involving the Internal Security Act, lawsuits against the foreign press and the ban of musical instruments at Thaipusam celebrations are made.

Traditionally, W!ld Rice pantomimes tilted its balance of kids versus adult jokes in favour of the young ones. But this year's show seems to have gone strongly in the other direction.

Indeed, the weeping heart of the story lies in the marital breakdown of the Emperor and the Empress (Audrey Luo). Playwright Tan draws such an unexpectedly nuanced and realistic portrait of a failing marriage within the candy-coloured pantomime that some adults in the audience literally sat up and leaned forward during these poignant scenes.

Brilliantly directed by Pam Oei, TheEmperor's New Clothes scores top marks in all the technical departments. Music by Julian Wong is toe-tappingly good with earworms like Brother From Another Mother and Naked As My Butt. Costumes by Tube Gallery's Phisit & Saxit, hair by Ashley Lim and make-up by Bobby Ng are striking, while set by Eucien Chia, lights by Adrian Tan and sound by Shah Tahir are top-notch.

One feels compelled to give a shout-out to little Nadim Sazwan as the boy who tells the Emperor the truth about his nakedness. A delightfully effervescent presence on stage, his role and name reminds one of Hang Nadim, the clever boy in the origin story of Bukit Merah who gave the Sultan a solution to save Temasek from swordfish attacks - but was later murdered by the insecure Sultan for being so clever.

W!ld Rice's The Emperor's New Clothes is replete with these kinds of whip-smart references and meta jokes, making it a hoot for adults. But maybe, you might want to leave your kids at your mum's this time and enjoy the show with your spouse and friends.

The Emperor's New Clothes is now on at Drama Centre till Dec 12 at 7.30pm nightly, with weekend matinees. Tickets from S$50 at Sistic

Singapore's best comedians ham it up


KUMAR, Dim Sum Dollies, Broadway Beng and other terrific entertainers are coming together next month for Dream Academy's Crazy Christmas, that delirious year-end celebration of song, dance, stories and stand-up comedy.

This edition is special because Dream Academy is celebrating its 15th year in show business.

Comedian and company founder Selena Tan says: "I will be sharing my journey of how I started acting and decided to set up Dream Academy - many crazy ideas, crazy schemes and crazy dreams. And of course, there's no better way to put this together than with a song!"

She's written a Tony-Awards-opening-style number that reprises all of Dream Academy's much-loved characters and shows, including its hit productions such as Into The Woods and Little Shop of Horrors.

The main show will also bring back some crowd favourites. Comedian Pam Oei, for instance, will recall her popular Christmas Bat character - a bat who wants to escape Halloween and be a part of Christmas instead.

"This year, she will be singing a new song about how she wants to get back with her boyfriend, Bat Man," says Tan. In true Dream Academy style, the comedians will also poke fun - affectionately, of course - at some classic Christmas traditions. This time, they're taking on that most ubiquitous of Christmas ballets, The Nutcracker.

"Comedian Sebastian Tan (better known as the Broadway Beng) will play the role of the Santa Claus who has migrated from the North Pole to Singapore to seek - literally - greener pastures," reveals Tan. He will put his inimitable Hokkien Beng twist into the retelling of The Nutcracker tale, while the rest of the cast members will appear in ballet tights to play characters such as the Tin Soldier, the Sugarplum Fairy and the Mouse King.

A new feature of this Crazy Christmas edition is the introduction of the Dream Choir, an inter-generational choir that comprises kids from Nanyang Primary School and seniors from Henderson Senior Activity Centre. Its oldest members are in their 70s and its youngest members are just seven. They'll be performing a seasonal and humorous mix of English and Cantonese songs which have been arranged by Dream Academy.

"For many of them, it will be their first time performing on the Esplanade stage," points out Tan who had worked hard with her team to create the new choir. "Every edition is the mad edition. It's our seventh show - same same but completely different. That's how crazy it is. But the crux of it is just a good ole' get-me-in-the-spirit-of-Christmas show."

Crazy Christmas: A Groundnutcracker will play from Dec 10 to 19 at 8pm, with weekend matinees, at the Esplanade Theatre. Tickets from S$66 at Sistic

A jazzy tribute to Frank Sinatra


SINGAPORE'S King of Swing Jeremy Monteiro returns with the popular annual Jazzy Christmas concert. This time round, he's devoting the concert to his idol Frank Sinatra with a show called Frankly, It's Christmas. Sinatra was born in 1915, so this year marks the centenary of the crooner's birth.

Monteiro says: "I grew up with a father who played the jazz guitar, so Frank Sinatra's music was always around the house. I simply love his music. Even now, you'll find plenty of Sinatra records in my house and countless songs by him on my iPad."

As in previous Jazzy Christmas concerts, half of the songs are Christmas-themed, while the other half are popular standards.

Monteiro is teaming up with well-known singers such as Singapore's Nathan Hartono, Australia's James Flynn and the UK's Tina May. They will sing Sinatra's most iconic Christmas and non-Christmas numbers such as The Christmas Song, I'll Be Home For Christmas, Come Fly With Me and The Way You Look Tonight.

Monteiro explains: "Sinatra's phrasing was second to none, how he drops a note or holds it, how he pauses to take a breath ... There are so many things a singer can learn from."

Each of the three singers performing in the concert, however, has a style of his own.

Hartono is a former boy prodigy who started out singing jazz but have since carved out a pop career in Indonesia and also branched out into singing R&B. But Monteiro says: "He still sings the classic American songbook beautifully, and it'll be great having him sing Sinatra again."

May is a well-known English singer with several albums under her belt, while Flynn "has the most obvious Sinatra-esque vibe among the three. He sings like Sinatra, but he also has his own twist and style to it", Monteiro adds.

But the musician Monteiro is most excited about playing with in the concert is Ryan Quigley, a Glasgow-raised virtuoso trumpeter who's been making waves in the jazz world.

Monteiro points out: "There are basically two kinds of trumpeteers - a jazz trumpeter who improvises very well but can't necessarily hit the high notes, and the lead trumpeter who can hit the high notes but not necessarily do improvs well. Ryan is one of the rare ones who does both well. I can't believe I hadn't heard him play until this year when we were both performing in Switzerland."

There's one other reason why you should catch this edition of Jazzy Christmas. Monteiro is taking a break from the popular series next year due to other commitments. He will resume the series in 2017.

Frankly, It's Christmas: A Jazzy Christmas is on at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Dec 18 at 7.30pm. Tickets from S$35 at Sistic

The best of the rest

By the Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge

One of the finest mixed-voice choirs in the world makes its debut in Singapore this Christmas to sing carols as well as classical favourites such as Bach/Gounod's Ave Maria, Mozart's Ave venum corpus and Purcell's O dives custos. Enjoy the angelic harmonies of these Cambridge students.

Victoria Concert Hall, Dec 17, 8pm, tickets from S$25 from Sistic


The excellent Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Singapore Symphony Children's Choir and Singapore Bible College Chorale team up to present a fine selection of traditional carols and popular Christmas songs such as The First Noel and excerpts from The Nutcracker Suite, led by associate conductor Jason Lai.

Victoria Concert Hall, Dec 11-13, 7.30pm on Fri and Sat, 4pm on Sun, tickets from S$20 from Sistic

By Singapore Dance Theatre

Singapore's premier dance company brings its season to a close with Marius Petipa's much-loved ballet Swan Lake. It was first performed by SDT in 2007 and has since become a well-established part of its repertoire. The lead role will be alternated between Rosa Park and Chihiro Uchida.

Esplanade Theatre, Dec 3-6, 8pm with 3pm weekend matinees, tickets from S$30 from Sistic

By Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra & The Joy Chorale

Looking for something classical and quirky at the same time? BHSO and the Joy Chorale are performing Christmas carols set to popular Hokkien songs, John William's Three Holiday Songs from the movie Home Alone, John Rutter's The Reluctant Dragon and other unusual Yuletide fare.

Esplanade Concert Hall, Dec 13, 5pm, tickets at S$15 from Sistic


If you have kids aged two to seven, then consider taking them to Dear Santa, a cheerful musical that follows Santa Claus and his Elf as they try to pick out the perfect present for a girl named Sarah. It's based on the popular young children's book of the same title by Rod Campbell.

SOTA Drama Theatre, Dec 11-13, different timings, tickets from S$38 from Sistic

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