In the early days of our independence, before becoming renowned for being the no-nonsense, pristine city we are today, Singapore’s nightlife was once the jewel of the East, attracting tourists from far and wide to the fabulous Bugis Street. Featuring female impersonators, transvestites and drag queens before they were even known by that title, Bugis Street thronged with gawkers and fascinated audiences as the queens sashayed, showed off their skills, and entertained the crowds into the wee hours of the night. All this eventually culminated in the Boom Boom Room at Bugis Street, which became the place to see drag excellence.
Even after Bugis Street received a major makeover, drag never died, and instead shifted to the Boom Boom Room at Far East Square, where acts like our queen of comedy Kumar made their name. But since the Boom Boom Room shuttered its doors, the drag scene became decentralised and scattered across other ventures and shows in our island city. Now come 2021, in a time where nostalgia for the past is at an all-time high, perhaps it is finally time for the Boom Boom Room to make a comeback.
Co-organised by Marina Bay Sands and Sliding Doors Entertainment, Boom Boom Room Live hits our shores this November, playing for a month at the Sands Expo & Convention Centre as it revives the heyday of our famous drag scene. Rocking an all new stage, the live variety show puts our local reigning drag queens front and centre, featuring both classic acts who’ve wowed audiences since the days of Bugis Street, and a new generation of stars and glamazons akin to the artists on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
The queens are headlined by the legendary Kumar, who brings his fellow queens and original stars of the Boom Boom Room, Helda and Lysa to the stage with him. Kumar is of course, known for his quick wit and impeccable jokes that poke fun at living in Singapore, and is nothing short of a national icon. Helda and Lysa are no pushovers either, and have their own share of accolades as well; Helda was the host of Asia’s Uncut Season 1 on Star World, has performed for the President, and walked for Jean-Paul Gaultier during Singapore Fashion Week. Meanwhile, Lysa is famed for her impersonations of divas such as Lady Gaga and Marilyn Monroe, while also being an esteemed choreographer and regular feature at shows at ActionforAids, Pinkdot and Hyper Sundays, and even performed for the royal families of Johor and Brunei.
The new generation of drag queens will be lead by Vanda Miss Joaquim (who we last saw in T:>works’ The Swimming Pool Library). Making her claim to fame and international stardom as a fan favourite and 3rd runner-up on Drag Race Thailand Season 2, Vanda is a seasoned performer and choreographer as well. For Boom Boom Room Live, she brings to the stage members of the House of Miss Joaquim, her drag performance collective that embraces all body types and personalities. Two members of the house will be featured alongside her in the line-up, namely, Anna Stacia and Tiara Sorrel.
No drag queen is complete without their fabulous costumes and wigs that reach the gods, with couture designer Frederick Lee providing costumes, and Fadli Rahman (aka Salome Blaque) on hair, make-up, wigs and art direction/photography.
On performing as part of Boom Boom Room Live, Helda promises to channel the essence of pop stars such as Katy Perry and Beyonce into her act, emulating their confidence and charm onstage to capture audience members’ attention and cheers. “I started out in late 90s, back when we were known as female impersonators,” says Helda. “Our focus was ‘tricking’ the audiences into thinking we’re women, and create the illusion of being beautiful and graceful. Nowadays, the craft is evolving, and it’s more loud, over the top and in your face.”
“Whether as a female impersonator or drag queen, audiences tend to confine these artists to a box, like how they compare bigger queens like myself and Anna Stacia to the skinnier queens,” she adds. “But you know, what I always tell my other plus-size sisters is that being big, we can do a lot more; just standing onstage already commands attention, because it’s like we’re a walking billboard. We should be proud of that and love our bodies. I choose to stand outside the box, on the box, and perform my heart out. And if the box breaks, then I just get a better box! “
Helda also comments on how rehearsals have been good for her, in part because of how much the cast cares for each other. “Backstage, we’re all really like a family, and check in on each other all the time,” she says. “And for the veterans, we feel like we paved a way for the newer generation, and continue to set a certain standard of energy and professionalism onstage.”
“I cried when Boom Boom Room closed at Bugis Street, and again at Far East Square. And now, being a part of this, it feels like walking down memory lane, melancholic, but also like I’ve been transported back to when I was a performer in my early 20s,” Helda continues. “I’m 44 now and proud of it, but this just reminds me of how much we’ve grown as performers from then to now, and I was so honoured to be asked to do this, and immediately said yes when I was approached. It feels good to be back.”
Other performers in the line-up will include local celebrity singer Nat Ho, known for his leading role on TV soap Tanglin (2015-2018), who has just returned from the USA, as well as magician Mentalist Mark, who uses uses his degree in Psychology and his background in magic to create impossible moments. Boom Boom Room Live will also be bringing in international acts such as drag king Daddy Vacation, and circus artist David Matz, who will be presenting the world’s first holographic Cyr Wheel in his act.
Dick Lee helms the creative direction for the show, while the performance will be directed by Samantha Kan, with music directed by seasoned composer/arranger/producer George Leong. “It’s time to have fun and walk down memory lane… to the future! Boom Boom Room, which I created in 1991, is back, bolder and better!” says creative director Dick Lee. “Reimagined as a contemporary cabaret, this dynamic drag extravaganza features Boom Boom Room’s original Kumar and a bevvy of fabulous queens, alongside other surprise entertainers. So, get dressed up and see you for an evening of much-needed craziness!”
Mr. Paul Town, Chief Operating Officer of Marina Bay Sands, said, “Marina Bay Sands is excited to work with Sliding Doors Entertainment & Dick Lee Asia, alongside Kumar, to bring back the iconic Boom Boom Room cabaret show to our integrated resort. The overwhelming response to Kumar’s recent, record-breaking shows at Sands Theatre is a testament to the love that audiences have for him. As a leading entertainment destination, we are always on the lookout for the best shows and like-minded partners who shine a spotlight on these extraordinary local talents.”
Milan Rokic, CEO of Sliding Doors Entertainment, adds: “I am absolutely thrilled to be collaborating with Dick Lee Asia to produce this wonderful performance that blends a uniquely Singaporean theatrical experience with world-class performers and production values.”
Boom Boom Room Live plays from 24th November to 19th December 2021 at the Sands Expo And Convention Center. Tickets available from SISTIC