Meet Singapore’s first and only Doctor of Musical Theatre.
BY JO TAN
Published on 19 January 2016
BY JO TAN
This doctor won’t fix your flu, but he can probably sing you a sassy song about it. Last December, 38 year-old actor Caleb Goh became Singapore’s first holder of a doctorate in musical theatre…but it almost didn’t come to be.
As Goh tells it, he only left Singapore to study musical theatre abroad because of certain setbacks here, namely being cast as the lead in both a movie and TV series only to be replaced last-minute by trending artistes. Looking to get away for a bit, he applied for the exclusive Masters course in musical theatre at San Diego State University. “They had already confirmed their cohort of eight students for the next two years, but I stubbornly sent in an audition video recorded at a friend’s house and remember dancing out of frame! Till today, my professors tell me it’s among the weirdest videos they’ve seen! But they saw something in me and gave me a place.”
His professors were right. Goh now holds a much-coveted PhD in musical theatre and arts education. He has worked in the United States for 11 years, headlining musicals like Kiss Me Kate, and teaching musical theatre at institutions like La Jolla Country Day School so impressively that La Jolla created the Caleb Goh Dance Award, given to one outstanding student annually.
Goh remembers his time in America with fondness and gratitude. “The performance industry in America was very welcoming. Despite being a minority, I landed all kinds of parts. My role in Kiss Me Kate is usually played by an African-American, but I beat several of them — and a few Caucasians — to it. The schools I taught at also valued what I brought to the table rather than the colour of my skin, ironically more so than in certain institutions where I taught in Singapore, which can favour foreign lecturers.”
Goh is unabashedly proud of the Singapore identity onstage. Before leaving for America, he starred in made-in-Singapore musicals such as Mr Beng and homegrown films like Forever Fever and The Teenage Textbook Movie. Returning briefly in 2014 and 2015, he headlined productions like Crazy Christmas — A Ground Nutcracker, Jack and the Bean-Sprout and Dick Lee’s Rising Son, and had his students perform Singaporean compositions while teaching at LASALLE College of the Arts. Academically, he’s spoken at international seminars about musical theatre in South-East Asia, especially Singapore.
“Over the years, I’ve witnessed local creative and performing talents blossoming, with Singaporean works often surpassing the foreign imports brought here. Because our first language is English, Singapore is in a very good position to present the next international hit musical. We don’t have to pander to Westernised ideals of Asian-ness, or remake Miss Saigon with Singaporean characters. I think by presenting Singapore stories with authenticity, our stories will be increasingly accessible internationally.”
Goh is currently in California starring in a brand-new musical The Boy Who Walked on Air, but he’s keen to continue accepting periodic projects in Singapore. “The United States has been really welcoming, but a part of me will always be home in Singapore.”