Profile: Broadway Beng

Published on 21 June 2016

Broadway Beng, the nutty alter ego of actor Sebastian Tan, celebrates his 10th anniversary by premiering original show tunes.

BY JO TAN

When Sebastian Tan introduced his comic alter ego Broadway Beng in 2006, he never imagined the character would still be strutting his sequinned stuff a decade later. “It was an experiment that went right,” muses Tan. “It could have flopped, because there wasn’t anything like Broadway Beng then. In Singapore, we have Broadway imports or adaptations, and lots of beng (Singlish for a gaudy Chinese gangster type) characters in getai (Chinese street concerts) and so on. But I think Broadway Beng was the first to combine the two.”

As a Hokkien- and Singlish-spewing heartland hero with a shine for show tunes, Broadway Beng’s numerous, wildly-successful shows to date are indeed a mishmash of many things. While his velvety singing voice is a definite draw, audiences also come for his stand-up comic observations and theatrical skits. “It’s a stand-up-cabaret-musical-concert. The fact that the show is so rojak means it’s truly Singaporean,” says Tan with a laugh. “But it also means we don’t get nominated at some awards. The Life Theatre Awards panellists told me there was no category in which to place the show.”

A pity, because Broadway Beng’s productions certainly aren’t just razzle-dazzle. “I’ve always lent a lot of myself to Broadway Beng. That’s why the audience finds it real. I take my own stories, add spice and dramatise them to make them Broadway Beng’s, and it’s always him growing with me. That’s why he’ll also be more mature in this 10th-anniversary concert.”

Indeed, this upcoming show sees a reduced focus on gags. It aims to be a more intimate sharing, with Tan talking and singing to the audience. It’s not just his usual repertoire of Hokkien and Broadway standards either.

“It has been in Broadway Beng’s character to sing covers, especially when audiences started to request more and more of their own favourites! But I’ve always wanted him to have his own originals, so he feels more complete as an artist. And we’ve been experimenting with that for this show. Broadway Beng is now in his 40s, so it’s time to try different things! Rest assured though: like me, Broadway Beng continues to be seow ting tong (nutty) even in his 40s.”

There’s no doubt our nation is seeing an increasing number of uniquely Singapore comedy acts — several are partly groomed by Tan himself. These include Denise Tan and Siti Khalijah, who spent stints as Broadway Beng’s chorus girls (dubbed the chio buus) before going on to headline their own comedy extravaganzas Dim Sum Dollies and Meenah and Cheenah respectively. “It’s good that real Singaporeans are represented onstage through different characters,” says Tan. “That’s how more local shows are giving imported ones a run for their money, and why some people only want to watch local theatre. The more of these characters, the merrier!”

Broadway Beng: 10th Anniversary Concert opens 14 July at Capitol Theatre.

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