Arts Comedy Review Singapore Theatre

★★★★★ Review: Kumar XXX by Dream Academy

Celebrating 30 years of being an icon, Kumar tackles sex, politics and current affairs in his signature, quintessentially Singaporean style.

CategoryScore (out of 10)
Direction (George Chan)9
Additional Writing (Gabrielle Evelena, Jo Tan, Malcolm Oei and Janis Goh)8
Performance (Kumar)10
Dancers (Aidil Fitrah, Charmain Ho, Francesca Harriman, Hafeez Hassan, Rocio Yap and Kim Eusope)10
Choreography (Francesca Harriman and Hafeez Hassan)10
Music (Aldrin Quek)8
Sound (Shah Tahir)8
Lighting (Reuben Ong) 7
Multimedia (Fiction Shore)8
Costume/Hair and Makeup (Frederick Lee / Zen Makeup Team)8
Total87/100 (87%)
Final Score:★★★★★

Kumar’s claim to a fame in Singapore is an extraordinary one, rising from his humble beginnings as an entertainer poring over knock knock jokes from bookstores in a time before the internet, to dealing with police officers ready to arrest him for any controversial content. From the Boom Boom Room to Hard Rock Cafe, the Drama Centre to the Esplanade to Marina Bay Sands, and now the Capitol Theatre, 30 years on, Kumar is done it all his way, and is now rightfully Singapore’s reigning Queen of Comedy, having paved the way forward for countless drag queens, comedians and artists.

But the world of 2022 is a completely changed one from 1992, a world where cancel culture is rampant and total war seems about to break out at any time. Yet, Kumar stands proud and stands strong, surviving not just the recent coronavirus pandemic, but the invisible AIDS pandemic of the ’90s, when it was still considered a ‘gay disease’ and losing countless friends to it.

Kumar is not just an entertainer – he is a fighter who never backs down, living life to the fullest each and every day. Performing as if every show might be his last, he knows that he is the only way who in Singapore who dares to respond to cancel culture with his brand of ‘can-say’ culture, unabashed and unafraid to speak freely about anything and everything under the sun.

Kumar is an icon and a legend, and that is made clearer than ever in Dream Academy’s latest show, Kumar XXX.

Directed by George Chan, with writing from Gabrielle Evelena, Jo Tan, Malcolm Oei and Janis Goh, Kumar XXX promises exactly what it says on the tin – dirty, sexy adult humour alongside his signature, scathing take on contemporary culture and current affairs, where no one is safe, regardless of age, race or sexuality.

From the moment one steps into the Capitol Theatre, Kumar XXX makes it clear that they are holding nothing back, ramping up the excitement and crafting the perfect atmosphere to get pumped; set up like a nightclub, with the thump thumping of pop remixes with heavy bass beats (by Aldrin Quek), dancers Aidil Fitrah, Charmain Ho, Francesca Harriman, Hafeez Hassan, Rocio Yap and Kim Eusope don revealing neon outfits, showing off their moves on platforms amidst the audience, posing, grinding and twerking away, while screens show off Fiction Shore’s hyper, colourful visuals. Working together as a single cohesive unit, the dancers showcase slick sensual choreography, thrusting away, oozing with sex appeal that raises the temperature in the room.

Make no mistake however, that Kumar remains the star of the show, drawing the applause when he arrives onstage in a blonde pussycat wig, a billowing orange skirt, and a top adorned with googly eyes, as if a reminder that all eyes should be on him, and that he sees all, always ready to catch and call out an errant latecomer or spy a gormless audience member dressed for the hawker instead of the theatre.

In this iteration, rather than a bombardment of insult comedy and heckling the audience, there is a clearer structure to his performance than in his Boom Boom Room days, split into three distinct segments. With his experience in entertainment, there are times Kumar feels akin to a sharp-tongued goddess on earth, and feels as if he should be revered for his bastion of knowledge and guru-like wisdom and keen observation of everything around him. All of this is established early on, as he explains and demonstrates his style of comedy to bring the audience up to speed, regardless of whether they’re regulars or newcomers to the show, dishing out his hot takes on race and class.

It wouldn’t be a Kumar show however, if he didn’t touch on the controversial topics of sex and politics. As acerbic as he can be, Kumar has always been about education and open-mindedness, and his ‘sex education’ lessons follow suit, correcting the misconceptions taught by the anti-LGBTQ Hwa Chong counsellor, before diving into more raunchy commentary about Singaporeans prudishness around sex.

Beyond riffing on Singaporeans’ inability to have good sex, even getting audience members to practice some dirty talk, one thing Kumar is keenly aware of is that he lives in a different time than the past. Whether it’s explaining acronyms that differ across generations, or acting aghast by strange kinks, Kumar brings on the laughs from the gross out humour, or the sudden detours into sharp observational humour that catch us unaware.

Laughs and jokes aside, there is certainly a serious and emotional side to Kumar that he rarely shows. In this iteration, Kumar XXX is not only a time to celebrate his journey, but also remember all those who have been on the path with him, through thick and thin. It’s definitely a personal journey that’s been heavily influenced by those that have stuck with him and supported him through these years. In this scene, Kumar takes a moment to talk about World AIDS Day and remember those we’ve lost along the way, and coming out of a pandemic, his words ring truer than ever.

Segueing into a dance number, Hafeez Hassan comes out onstage in black, holding a candle in vigil of the dead. A cover of Beyonce’s ‘Halo’ plays, and Kim Eusope arrives in white, a ghost from the past. The two recognise each other and dance, their memories of spending time with each other fuelling their love, before they part at last. The remaining dancers also emerge in white, representing all those who died during the AIDS pandemic. Yet as sombre as this is, the dancers seem to be encouraging Hafeez to live and press on amidst the sadness, and as paper lanterns appear onscreen and float skyward, representing the hopes and wishes for a better future. Seeing these, Hafeez finds the strength within to carry on, powering through into the future, and determined overcome anything else that stands in his way.

And it is this emotional sequence that seems to reflect Kumar’s own story, as he re-emerges onstage in a white dress adorned with a sparkling red ribbon adorning his shoulder, the universal symbol of awareness and support for people living with HIV. Wearing that costume while entering his final segment, it not only feels like a tribute and commemoration of living through some of these darkest times, but a powerful symbol of hope to push back against any forces that dare stand in the way of his artistry. Kumar may be standing onstage and cracking jokes, suggesting how certain people can make their social media accounts sexier or finding surprisingly attractive qualities about certain public figures, but even as we laugh, what we see onstage is a steadfast, eternal emblem of life itself, the comedy a means of reminding us to lighten up, to reject all the darkness and gloom we’re surrounded by, and choose happiness instead.

In a rousing end to the celebration, the dancers return in neon workout attire, performing a showstopping choreography they’re all fully committed to, confidently showing off their bodies and moves. It’s a return to the high octane energy at the start of the show, before Kumar himself reappears in his own Olivia Newton-John inspired look. Lipsyncing to a remix of ‘Physical’, Kumar shows that age is no barrier to putting on a good show, and even performs a few physically-demanding feats with the dancers, always willing to put himself out there, to show that he is capable of anything he puts his mind to, and finishing Kumar XXX with a climax.

The Kumar of today is the same Kumar thirty years ago. Testament to his legacy is a series of videos where various local celebrities of all backgrounds thanks Kumar for his services to Singapore, sharing memories of their experiences growing up with him or watching a show, all having had some kind of impact regardless of age. The final moments see the screens project an old image of Kumar from back in his Boom Boom Room days, and we think about how much Kumar has grown with every show, how his own humour has evolved and adapted to the changing times, yet always fighting to say what he believes in, and using his platform for good, to educate and remind us to care for ourselves, and to care for each other.

Thirty years on, we live in a changed world, but Kumar is still putting himself out there onstage, wearing heels and makeup and wigs and massive outfits, still doing what he loves and remaining a light at the forefront of the entertainment industry. Kumar XXX is a salient reminder not to take life too seriously, that it’s all in good fun and to give yourself a break. It’s a show where you just enjoy yourself, tilt your head back, and laugh (even if you don’t get it), and remember that happiness is where you find it, if you fight for it.

Photos courtesy of Dream Academy®

Kumar XXX runs from 1st to 17th December 2022 at Capitol Theatre. Tickets available from BookMyShow

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