What was the last musical you saw that you wished you were in?
Nothing really. I don’t think i have seen very many musicals in recent times.
Name me a local musical you wished you were in.
Well, i have a lot of history with Beauty World. A history of never having been in it in a way that I wanted to. On several levels. The first level was watching it in 1988 and thinking “It’s so camp, I can’t get into this style of acting.” And then during the ’92 version and wanting very much to be in it and not being able to, because I was needed as the technical manager for the 4 cities Beauty World tour in Japan and the set up in Singapore. And then the ’98 version (which was the President Star Charity version) in which i wanted a shot at the character Ah Hock and of course Darren Lim got the role, met the lovely Evelyn who played opposite him as Ivy and they fell in love and got married! So that’s a wonderful story and was definitely meant to be (laughs). Then the Wild Rice version and by that time I was too old to play Ah Hock and then I thought this is the last time I would have any encounter with Beauty World.
Whether it’s true or not, most people in Singapore know you as a dramatic actor as opposed to a musical theatre actor - what are your responses to that?
I think that’s quite true. I think i am most comfortable in that genre. I certainly have not done any roles in any musical theatre here that most people would remember me for and so it’s true lah, that is my body of work. But of course I have all sorts of work within that “serious” genre - I’ve done the very experimental, etc, and I like it all.
Lots of people don’t know you sing - tell us a bit about the history between you and singing
Well we are going to have to go into history because it has everything to do with where Lim Yu-Beng was at what place in time.
I come from the time when if you sang you were considered weird. The standard response in schools then when you sang was, “Eeee…my hair stand ah”. It didn’t matter if you were good or not. The standard thing was to ridicule anything that was true or emotional. In church though I was always in all the church choir concerts. A lot of the journey of my voice is very rooted in church singing. And then it got into the rock and roll teen years and the joy of all that which immediately set me against everybody else, because in Singapore rock was always looked down upon, where if you didn’t like all the clap-on-the-one-and-three music and preferred something with balls, you were a bit of an outcast, which suited my rock ethos anyway. I went through feeling those things. and then I went to university and studied theatre and found myself appreciated for being able to sing and was in many uni musicals and choir performances. When I came back I did the occasional gig in the army years with my buddy Ed who was a guitarist, but that was it.
What followed was years where the only singing I did was howling to the moon in the middle of the night in Fort Canning while doing tech work alone in TheatreWorks. I did a little experimental singing in a couple of TheatreWorks shows like Longing (’93) and Lear (2000) where I played the Loyal Retainer, but that was it.
I did sing in a musical as the lead in ’95, which was nice, and in ’06 as a supporting with Dream Academy’s Little Shop of Horrors, and then in Pangdemonium’s Full Monty and SRT’s Fried Rice Paradise in 2010, and TheatreWorks’ National Broadway Company in 2012. So five musicals in about twenty-seven years of professional theatre. Hahaha that’s about right!
I just saw Pangdemonium’s production of Rent featuring today’s young musical theatre talents and they were crazy good. I thought to myself, wow, the bar’s moved up! I have a lot of catching up to do. But that’s good. It’s important.
A little bird told me you are interested in writing your own musical - any inspirations to date? why would this musical be about?
I have explored a few ideas but then it has been a series of “Oh, someone else beat me to it”, or something else turned up, or I decided not to. It would have to be something that I know. I love to research things but inevitably you end up writing something you know. And the music choices…they would have to stem from the material of the book itself. I’m not a musician. I have no training. I’m training myself to go by feel, and sense which way that internal lodestone points when it encounters a magnetic source.
What are your thoughts about Tropicana?
I do enjoy the script so far and the general thrust. I don’t know what my character is going to sound like yet. I am quite excited about some of the music I have heard, even though much of it is not in my personal taste. Nonetheless, I think the music is very appropriate for the story and the show and that Julian Wong (the composer) has done a wonderful job. He’s so sensitive and detailed! The tunes and arrangement he wrote for the little presentation we did at the Tropicana press conference is still in my head, so the man writes ear-worms. And that’s just great.
Approach in dramatic and musical role - is there a difference?
No except that you are using different tools. You’re singing. Or dancing. But that’s just an extension of the self. And so I have to really practice because those tools need a it! So that I can use them as second nature. It should feel as one. I want to get myself to the level where I can serve the work decently. I love working on a musical because that training period tends to be the time where my tools of body and voice are at the best condition.
Tell us a little known fact about your history with singing outside of the theatre.
I love hymns, classical hymns, and I love rock and roll. Rock and classical music are probably the only two types of music that have so much passion. To me. Certain genres are created just to allow you to lepak and be senang senang, to be listened at quarter volume. I don’t listen to things at quarter volume. When I listen, I listen.
Could you please sing us a hymn?