Forbidden City 2017: An Interview with Sebastian Tan and Benjamin Chow

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As we gear up for National Day coming in a few months, here’s a reminder that it’s not the only thing to be celebrating this August, as yet another national treasure will be making its way back to the stage – Presented by the Singapore Repertory Theatre, Forbidden City the Musical will be making a triumphant return to the Esplanade, starring Kit Chan in the lead role as Yehenara.

But Kit Chan isn’t the only star who’ll be singing her heart out. Joining her onstage will also be rising star Benjamin Chow as Prince Tun, and Broadway Beng Sebastian Tan as Record Keeper 2. We snagged an interview with them, so for some insight into their lives beyond their roles, check out their responses below!

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Photo Credit: SRT Instagram

Sebastian Tan

You’ve been working really hard this year, having already appeared in Detention Katong and Itsy, and now Forbidden City. What can Singaporeans most look forward to when they watch you onstage as Record Keeper 2?

SEBASTIAN: It’s a period piece to start with unlike the first 2 shows I’ve done this year and a show I’ve been working on for 16 years, having played the role 3 other times! As I grow as an actor, I believe so will the role. It’ll be interesting to see both for the audience and me if I can find newer better things I can bring to the role. Plus this time round, I have a new partner in crime, Dwayne Lau, having previously played opposite Hossan Leong, so I believe the dynamics will be quite different. It’ll be a fresh take on the role and it’ll be exciting to see how that add to the musical. That plus the fact that Dwayne and me will try our best to inject some humour into the musical.

You’re known for your roles in comedic shows. In a ‘serious’ musical like Forbidden City, how do you adjust your mindset to play your comic relief role of Record Keeper 2 and relief the tensions?

SEBASTIAN: I have to tell myself the record-keepers are not just comic reliefs in the story, mere clowns just prancing around the stage with no greater purpose. We have the important task of narrating the story, helping the audience better understand the legendary story of the empress dowager. With that in mind, I know my main priority is to narrate the story but in a light manner to sort of cushion the ‘seriousness’ of the story.

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Photo Credit: Singapore Repertory Theatre

Much like Broadway Beng, Forbidden City has become one of Singapore’s most iconic and recognizable musicals. What is the key to keeping material fresh and evergreen?

SEBASTIAN: Reinvention is key to keeping any roles fresh. With Broadway Beng ,every show is a new show with fresh new materials, stories, songs, jokes. Like I said, as I grow as an actor and as a person, so will my performances and roles even if it’s a role I’ve done for years.

As with Forbidden City, although we had many runs, and the story remains the same, there’s still gonna be new elements. A lot of the actors, musicians, crew are new to the show and with that, new dynamics will be formed and it’ll help inspire new ideas, new energy to keep the musical fresh!

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Photo Credit: Benjamin Chow Facebook

Benjamin Chow

How are you preparing for your role as Prince Tun? And how do you feel being part of the cast of Forbidden City?

BENJAMIN: I’m really excited to take on a role so very different from my last show ahahaha as any actor would be. 🙂 finding my way from the gentleness of Benmin in Tango to the ruthlessness of Prince Tun is going to be lots of fun! SRT has been lovely enough to let me watch a screening of the 2006 version, and i’ve got a couple of ideas to bring into the rehearsal space once we begin so i really can’t wait. oh yes and I’m also really looking forward to working with Steven Dexter again.

You’ll be working very closely with Kit Chan for the first time during Forbidden City. How do you feel about working with such a big star? 

BENJAMIN: I’m honoured! Kit Chan has been a light in the music and theatre scene for so long, I’m just- it’s a joy.️ It’s always humbling to be in a cast with veteran actors. I love the learning curve it gives me just being able to watch them work, and it brings a sort of relief as well to know that a show’s in good hands. But star or otherwise, I have a deep respect for everyone who’s been doing this for longer than I have – and that’s a lot of people.

Hossan Leong, Sebastian Tan. Photo Sealey Brandt
Photo Credit: Sealey Brandt

Apart from acting, you’ve also directed an original work for the Twenty-something Theatre Festival last year. Any plans for more directorial work in the near future?

BENJAMIN: No solid plans at the moment – but I do want to say: I AM hungry to direct nowadays. It’s a harder kind of work to come by – at least, so it seems at the moment – but I’m open to any kind of directorial work that might present itself in the future. Or perhaps I’ll get hungry enough to try and create something myself, who knows?

You’ve only been in the local theatre scene a few years and have already been snapping up big juicy roles such as in the LKY Musical and in Pangdemonium’s Rent last year. Is there a dream role you’d love to play? \

BENJAMIN: Aaaaaah well, I wouldn’t say ‘snapping up’ haha. Honestly a large part of it is just chance – being lucky enough to find guardian angels along the way who believe in you: older actors or producers who’ve been doing this for long enough that they feel they can give young up-and-comers like me a helping hand. I’m really grateful to everyone who’ve opened doors for me, or really just given me light in any small way! It all helps. Who knows? Perhaps one day I could be in a position to do that for someone else. I’d like that.

As far as dream roles are concerned – hahaha, gosh, um, there’re several roles that I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone in wanting to take a stab at! Maybe Sweeney when i’m old enough! Of course there’s Hamlet, as usual, which i imagine would be intense. Edmund from King Lear would be delicious. Shakespeare aside – honestly it would excite me to be in any Beckett/Pinter/Stoppard play…or to be in a Cake production! That would be frightening and lovely since I’ve always been a fan. But musing aside, work is work, so, truth is, my dream role is whatever helps me pay rent ahahaha.

Thanks Ben!

BENJAMIN: Thanks again and, yeah! Looking forward to kicking off this grand show!

Bakchormeeboy will also be holding a competition where readers stand to win tickets to catch Forbidden City in August! Stay tuned to find out how you can win!

Forbidden City plays at the Esplanade Theatre from 8th to 27th August at the the Esplanade Theatre. Tickets available from SISTIC

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