Sebastian Tan, actor, singer, raconteur and all-round funny guy is sitting at the mezzanine level at the Dream Academy Productions studio, trying to define what an “ah beng” means to him.
“Ah bengs are very misunderstood. People think that they’re uncouth, rude and brash, but I think they are an honest lot who speak their minds,” Tan, 40, said in an interview with inSing.
He added: “They might seem impolite to you and too ‘in-your-face’, but to them being truthful and being true to oneself is more important that being nice and ‘fake’.”
The ah beng is a caricature of a working class Chinese man in Singapore, a catch-all term for the uncouth, one who is not highly educated, who lives life dangerously on the streets, the gangster-wannabe who generally speaks Hokkien.
Tan claims to be an ah beng at heart, saying his favourite Hokkien song is the popular ‘Ai Pia Jia Eh Yia’ (translated as “One must fight to win”).
Since 2006, he has been taking to the stage to play Broadway Beng, the all-Singaporean ah beng who is as comfortable spouting Hokkien as he is in delivering show-tunes.
Playing at the Drama Centre Theatre this October, ‘Benging You Back to Basics’ goes down memory lane, with the affable character entertaining us with stories of his youth.
MATERIAL FROM HIS OWN LIFE
Tan said: “It’s a brand new show. I will be digging stories from my (real-life) childhood as well as telling audiences ‘tragic’ anecdotes from my life story.
“While I’m telling you my life story, I will also be focusing on the ‘beng’ culture and reminding Singaporeans that there is an ‘ah beng’ and ‘ah lian’ in us.”
Some of the highlights include a segment about the origins of Broadway Beng’s fashion sense and ascent into “beng”-dom, as well as a “beng” dance scene inspired by the tea-dances in the 1990s at clubs such as Rumours and Sparks.
The show is directed by Selena Tan and also stars Denise Tan, Judee Tan, Mina Kaye, Jacqueline Pereira and Siti Khalijah.
A blend of stand-up comedy, musical theatre, getai and cabaret, the ‘Broadway Beng’ shows have been runaway hits over the years, and Tan did not expect the character to get the same kind of recognition as other fictitious characters such as TV’s Phua Chu Kang, a renovation contractor with “beng”-like traits.
Tan recalled: “We were all very nervous before we went on stage before our very first show seven years ago, because we did not know how the audience will react to this kind of production.
“To our relief, the audience loved it and just couldn’t get enough of me.”
His biggest outing has to be at this year’s National Day Parade, when he went on stage in character in front of thousands of Singaporeans.
Tan reiterated that this show would not be his last, because he felt that the character’s journey is not over yet.
“Broadway Beng will definitely grow old with me. As I grow older and experience more of life, I’m sure I can bring some of that into the character, and there’s no shortage of material from the neighbourhood kopitiams (coffee shops).”
‘Broadway Beng: Benging You Back to Basics’ | Date: 10-27 October 2013 | Time: 8pm (Tue-Fri); 4pm & 8pm (Sat); 2pm & 6pm (Sun) | Venue: Drama Centre Theatre | Address: Level 5, National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street | Tickets: $19 to $77 from Sistic