Reviving the glory days of Singapore’s cabaret scene.
If there’s one thing to be said about the Boom Boom Room, it’s that it lived up to its name – loud, proud and unabashed about giving audiences a good time. And amidst the dark reality we’re all living through right now, it’s exactly the kind of energy we need once again.
While the original Boom Boom Room of the past may be gone, its soul lives on in those who remember it. And one such person happens to be Dick Lee and his collaborators, who have revived the concept as a live show in the form of Boom Boom Room Live. Offering a multitude of performances in a single evening, the line-up of performers include new contemporary drag acts, classic queens from the original Boom Boom Room (including queen of comedy Kumar), singers, magicians, acrobats and dancers.
Being such an iconic part of Singapore’s nightlife history, it was integral to honour the spirit of the original venue by attempting to recreate that same feeling of closeness, intimacy and wonder, even in these socially distanced times. Despite taking place at the Sands Expo, the creative team have managed to recreate a similar atmosphere of excitement. The stage takes the form of a catwalk, with either end being a larger performance space, while the audience is seated such that they surround this stage, almost transforming the massive hall into a packed room, allowing the performers to feed off audience members’ applause, and harness that in their high energy performances.
And high energy it is – upon entering the venue on opening night, we’re already greeted with pulsing music and lights dancing across the seats and stage, a club-like atmosphere we haven’t felt since before the pandemic. Right off the bat, we’re already treated to the queens strutting out onstage one by one, each dressed in showstopping, colourful costumes as coutured by Frederick Lee.
The mistress of ceremonies is Kumar herself, making a statement as she arrives in a cotton candy-pink wig and figure hugging yellow sleeveless dress, with fiery orange and yellow feathers forming a half skirt. Noting how young most of the audience are, she gives us a quick introduction to the history of the Boom Boom Room before pre-empting us for the rest of the night’s performances.
Coming into a show like this, you know exactly what you’re in for, and Boom Boom Room Live delivers on all counts. The night begins with the queens from the original Boom Boom Room, with Helda working her way down the runway and finding her inner kitty cat in a lipsync to a medley of Katy Perry songs. Meanwhile, Lysa, ravishing in a big red ruffled coat, brings the diva out as she lipsyncs to Whitney Houston’s ‘I’m Every Woman’, before a fabulous reveal to a Wonder Woman-esque costume, complete with cape. In both acts, Helda and Lysa are supported by their backup dancers Esther and Naomi, who help fill the stage and add cutesy charm or an extra dose of sensuality.
Naturally, the two queens eventually do perform a duet together, with a lip sync to ‘Telephone’ by Lady Gaga (Lysa) and Beyonce (Helda), bringing the high energy, emotion, and passion to the stage. Both queens prove that they’re veteran entertainers, completely confident throughout their choreography, and never letting their backup dancers steal the spotlight from them.
The Boom Boom Room wouldn’t be what it is without Kumar, and when she reappears onstage, her hair is bigger than ever as she lets loose a brand new selection of jokes. From using the Kiztopia playground next door as fodder, to discussing her new favourite TikTok videos, to even finding the humour in wardrobe malfunctions, Kumar proves that she is a professional through and through.
In between the drag acts, the audience is also treated to a variety of other performers; local singer Nat Ho, fresh from the USA, gets us pumped with his rendition of Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’. Supported by backup dancers Tristan and Hafiz clad in leather and latex, the familiar number got the audience bouncing along to the beat and impressed by Nat’s stage presence and confidence. Meanwhile, mentalist Mark Wong engages the audience with a simple but effective magic trick, using sleight-of-hand and misdirection to pull off a mini-miracle, almost as if he managed to read our minds.
On the international front, specially-invited Las Vegas acrobat David Matz wows with his act, at first simply spinning a lighted hoop, before bringing out a massive cube, one he manages to balance and spin with grace and dexterity. Later on, he performs his signature ‘Volta Wheel’ act, carefully maintaining his poise as he ‘rides’ the wheel across the catwalk, a dazzling light in the dark.
Matz’s partner, drag king Daddy Vacation, brings both sex appeal and showmanship to his death-defying acts, thrilling the crowd in a swinging, aerial pole dance act set to The Weeknd’s ‘Blinding Lights’. Not only does he bring the stunts; he’s also incredibly charming, putting on over the top machismo to charm the hall, ripping off tearaway clothing to reveal a ‘chiselled body’ under it.
Bringing their youth and vigour to the stage, Drag Race Thailand finalist Vanda Miss Joaquim owns the stage with her drag family Anna Stacia and Tiara Sorrel. Arguably Singapore’s most well-known haus, the three of them arrive in full drag regalia, and are completely at home on the catwalk, lipsyncing to a Lady Gaga medley, from ‘Venus’ to ‘Stupid Love’. As a triple act, all three queens show off their chemistry by remaining in sync, proof of the amount of time spent in rehearsals together, and thriving on the audience’s presence to deliver.
But of course, the OG Boom Boom Room queens will never let us forget that they were the ones who started it all, and our live show closes on a nostalgic note. Being a quintessentially Singaporean act, the Boom Boom Room loved to pay tribute to our national languages, and in their final act, Kumar, Helda and Lysa reprise a Boom Boom Room classic – lipsyncing to beloved local songs. Dressed in red-hot cheongsams, armed with giant fans, and oversized peonies in their hair, the three queens performed a medley of classic Chinese songs, from ‘Chachambo’ to ‘Wo Yao Ni De Ai’ , and for a moment, it felt like we had been transported to a simpler time before the pandemic, a time we could all head out again without limits, and simply allow ourselves to forget the worries of today.
Special mention goes out to the unsung heroes of Boom Boom Room Live – director Samantha Kan for bringing this vision to life, as well as the four ‘Boombox dancers’ Tristan, Hafiz, Esther and Naomi supporting the acts, and providing short but slick choreography set to vintage dance tracks in-between. Perhaps most powerful of all is the fantastic multimedia design supporting every act: projected on a big screen at the back of the stage, it feels like we’re in the middle of a big time festival, where each video sequence magnifies the mood of each act without distracting from it, filling the space and providing great backdrops for the performers.
During the final curtain call, the cast emerges in brilliant black and gold to the tune of Bananarama’s ‘Venus’, and one cannot help but feel the good vibes emanating from the cast, and their sheer joy at being able to perform onstage. It’s times like these that we realise just how important the arts and entertainment scene has been, both in the past, and now, more than ever, as a means of escapism, and allowing us to disappear into the pure unbridled joy of this live show. As Kumar puts it, ‘happiness is not a place, it’s a direction’, and Boom Boom Room Live has certainly set us down that path with a night to remember.
Boom Boom Room Live plays from 24th November to 19th December 2021 at the Sands Expo And Convention Center. Tickets available from SISTIC