Review: Detention Katong by Dream Academy

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Detention Katong is the latest big budget production from Dream Academy. If you’ve ever been through secondary school, or know anyone currently going through it, then this is one musical you can’t miss.

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The concept of detention can hold different meanings for people – a dreaded label that one is a ‘bad person’ or even escape from the world. Written by Selena Tan and co-directed by George Chan, Detention Katong is all about what life is like for an adolescent growing up and juggling school, family and friends. When Geylang Girls Secondary School (GGSS) straight A student and teacher’s pet Amanda Chin (Valerie Choo) sees her mother (Serene Chen) get up to some suspicious activity, she begins to act out to get her mother’s attention. Landing herself in detention, Amanda quickly befriends her detention mates Serene (indie musician Inch Chua) and Sharifah (YouTube sensation Munah Bagharib) and becomes one of the ‘bad girls’.  Along with an all-star cast of school staff and talented youths as fellow students, Amanda reminds her audiences about the struggles of a teenager and how bad girls aren’t necessarily all bad.

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Detention Katong starts off cheekily enough, playing the National Anthem with a twist – some students singing it off key and louder than others, reminiscent of our sleepy morning assemblies. GGSS’ latin school motto also plays on our national values – Nemo Debet Vos Vitae, which roughly translates to no one owes you a living, provoking laughter from the audience at the reference.

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Despite being relatively new to the theatre scene, our three main cast members were filled to the brim with youthful energy and strong singing voices, particularly Valerie Choo as Amanda. Inch Chua embodied her character’s spunky, go-getter attitude and Munah Bagharib played up her naughty persona really well. It’s amazing what costume designer Frederick Lee has done with the school uniforms, reminiscent of most typical secondary school girls’ uniforms, and even designed P.E. attires to match! The remainder of the ensemble was also very capable at bringing out their schoolgirl characters, consisting Melissa Gan, Sharon Sum, and particular praise to Kimberly Chan, Natalie Yeap and Alyssa Lie.

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The cast playing the school staff were mostly veteran actors, and did a wonderful job of bringing on the laughs and feels as necessary. Sebastian Tan as geeky school counselor Mr Saw and the afro-wigged Neo Swee Lin as discipline mistress brought out the caricatured roles well, and even portrayed convincing versions of the students’ dreaded parents in an entertaining sequence of fast costume changes. Suhaimi Yusoff was also at his best as a joke-y PE teacher. All of this was supported by co-set designers Denise Low and Melissa Ho’s innovative pull out set, accurately creating a school environment.

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With song lyrics written by some of the very best in our local scene, from Dave Tan of Electrico to Sarah Cheng-De Winne, there was a good balance of rousing, Broadway type songs and catchy pop tunes as well. Benjamin Kheng of Sam Willows fame wrote a song titled Changing Chords, a duet between Amanda and Luke (Terrence Tay), and the two did their best to make it come alive with emotion. Kheng also wrote the title theme entitled Detention. It helped of course, that there was a talented live band playing, with Elaine Chan herself on keys.

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You’ll be pleased to know that Detention Katong does have a happy ending, with an eventual emotional reunion between Amanda and her mother, but as to how they go about it, you’ll have to watch it yourself! Love really does conquer all, all it takes is for one to realize it’s all around you, and comes in all forms. All in all, Detention Katong is a real throwback for everyone watching it and delivers clear themes and important messages of what it means to fit into society as a whole, while subtly touching on some difficult to discuss topics.

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Selena Tan took a risk in producing this musical in creating an original work and utilising so many new cast members and directions, especially in terms of music, but in so doing, she managed to discover and show off some real talent in Singapore. It takes a lot of courage to do so, and we as audience members should have faith in her foresight, and continue to support her and Dream Academy so more hidden talents can be discovered.

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Detention Katong plays from 17 February to 5 March at the Esplanade Theatre. Tickets available from SISTIC

Photo Credit: Dream Academy Facebook

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