★★★★☆ (Performance attended 17/12/19)
Dream Academy’s A-Team come together for a festive variety show to do what they do best – having fun, spreading joy and laughter.
If it’s one company that knows how to play to their strengths, it’s Dream Academy. Following a four year hiatus since its last edition in 2015, the local theatre company has triumphantly brought back their crowd-pleasing Crazy Christmas once again, boasting a line-up of acts showcasing the company’s strongest talents and plenty of festive spirit to make this show a joyous success.
Playing on hit films How The Grinch Stole Christmas and Crazy Rich Asians, Crazy Grinch Asians takes the form of a holiday variety show, with a medley of performances ranging from comedic sketches to a capella numbers, ukulele duos to audience interactions. While ostensibly simple in its set-up, there is an undeniable sense of festivity that permeates the entire show. The giant Christmas tree centrepiece, complete with big, shining star atop it, feels like what you’d find in a shopping mall (reflecting our shopping-obsessions around this period), while the colourful, radiant costumes donned by cast members, each one more glitzy than the last (designed by Frederick Lee, with hair by Leong Lim and makeup by Sha Shamsi). With the show opening with an animated storybook sequence that introduces the Grinch, we’re put in the mood for the show ahead.
What Dream Academy seems to have made their signature seems to be the sheer enthusiasm and energy that characterises their shows. Throughout Crazy Grinch Asians, this is felt in every scene, right from the opening medley of re-arranged Christmas songs, with the cast all smiles. Selena Tan takes centrestage here, backed up by her other castmates, and the medley even weaves in songs from Crazy Rich Asians such as ‘Material Girl’ and ‘Wo Yao Ni De Ai’. It’s hard not to feel the beginnings of a grin creepy across one’s face watching Gino Babagay’s simple but effective choreography play out onstage, with George Chan in particular standing out for his smooth, precise movements. Even the band, led by musical director Elaine Chan, is dressed for Christmas, donning Santa hats and festive accessories.
Over the rest of the evening, each successive act feels like one Christmas treat after another; couple Neo Swee Lin and Lim Kay Siu (affectionately known as the Neokelelims) start us off on a cute note, and take audience members from the tropics of Hawaii, to marvelous Mexico, romantic Paris with their take on classic ukulele songs. Selena Tan’s sketch has her dressed up as ‘Ho Chin Chye’, referencing a certain famous Ho and delivering cheeky, timely political references before segueing into a parody of Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’. Veteran singer Mel Ferdinands and daughter Elle Ferdinands (appearing in a ravishing, attention-grabbing orange wig) bring up the energy levels with their family duet.
A capella group Vocaluptuous impress with their strong onstage chemistry, such as how Genevieve Seah and Takuma Tanaka bring modern love to the holiday – through text messaging and emojis. It’s impressive how the group has remained a key part of Crazy Christmas in every iteration, and how much they’ve progressed over the years, with new changes to the lineup and constant growth. Hazrul Nizam in particular, stands out, even receiving his own solo sequence, where he performs a moving rendition of Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’, marking 25 years since it first hit the air, and Michael Buble’s ‘You’re My Everything’.
One of Dream Academy’s greatest assets however, is Kumar, and as the veteran drag queen and comedienne came out dressed as disgraced pastor’s wife Sun Ho (from her infamous ‘China Wine’ music video), we already knew that there would be no punches pulled in his repertoire. While he comes out claiming how cold he feels, his act certainly warmed the room up considerably. Kumar’s talent was evident in this sequence alone, picking up quickly on the audience profile and landing jokes that ranged from the political to the racial, dancing precariously on the edge of insulting and socially acceptable, and garnering plenty of laughs. Even in the audience involvement bit, often a case of hit or miss, got us playing along to a game where we identified who was a real life Crazy Rich Asian from photos alone (a hint: they’re usually not particularly attractive). Kumar was the strongest act of the night, putting on a good show, and certainly, we’ll be waiting patiently for him to launch his ‘Hotel Kumming Soon’
At the heart of Crazy Grinch Asians however, is Sebastian Tan as a mash-up between his Broadway Beng character and the Grinch, as he attempts to steal Christmas in multiple short scenes throughout the show. While the script does falter in parts, and could afford to be a little less stingy with the material, what he does end up stealing is audience members’ hearts, with good interaction at the expense of the very sporting front row, and even includes a creative way to introduce the ‘Ho-chestra’ involving festive accessories (Joshuan Tan on guitar, Brandon Wong on bass, Fabian Lim on sax, Tama Goh on drums, and Elaine Chan on keys). Watching him learn and understand the power of Christmas, one feels uplifted when the cast returns with him to perform a (Hokkienized) version of The Greatest Showman’s ‘This Is Me’.
Crazy Grinch Asians is a welcome return to the madcap, irreverent world of Dream Academy’s Crazy Christmas, bringing out their best talents at full force. While there are moments it veers more into ‘grinch’ territory than full on cheer, there’s still something in it for just about every audience member out there. As the cast ends off with a medley of classic Christmas numbers, once again led by Selena, we’re left feeling that this is a show that makes you believe that Christmas really is all about joy, family and togetherness, made that much better with a little song and laughter from the Dream team.
Crazy Grinch Asians plays from 11th to 21st December at the Capitol Theatre. Tickets available from BookMyShow