Benjamin Kheng (of The Sam Willows fame) is one of the most exciting local talents we’ve had in a while. Swimming in both the mainstream and the indie river, 2015 has been undoubtedly an exciting year for him. The Sam Willows (TSW) has just released their debut studio album Take Heart to huge popular acclaim. As a solo artist, he was last seen somewhere in the new National Stadium, singing and dancing for the Southeast Asian games. To cap off a dream like 2015, you can catch him in W!LD RICE’s latest pantomime, the Emperor’s New Clothes. We had a little chat with him about starring in a pantomime alongside Sezairi and theatre veteran Lim Kay Siu among other things.
The first thing we found out about Ben Kheng is his sense of humour. When asked about what his favourite experience for 2015 was, his reply, “My favourite experience would have to be a power nap I took sometime in May, in between work agendas. It was 10 minutes, and it was heavenly.” To be honest, we totally agree and our numerous power naps and snack breaks definitely rank high in our list of unforgettable experiences, to hear that we are not alone is definitely reassuring. His second favourite experience though is where we start to differ, “coming in a close second would be either recording the TSW album in Sweden, or performing at the new National Stadium as part of the SEA Games Opening Ceremony.” Damn, if only we could say the same thing.
For those of you who might find the idea of Ben Kheng in a pantomime to be a little weird, you can rest assured that this is definitely not his first experience. Having played the title role in Romeo and Juliet and in Ah Boys To Men: The Musical, his musical abilities should be able to shine on this stage. According to him though, his involvement in Emperor’s New Clothes came from the promise by Pam Oei (the director), who “enticed me with the prospect of much chocolate cake and a position of the 4th member of the Dim Sum Dollies, both of which turned out to be lies.” Who else is disappointed that Ben Kheng will not be the 4th member of the Dim Sum Dollies and won’t get to see him singing various MRT related songs? Despite the initial ‘disappointment,’ we are happy to report that Ben is “very happy to be involved in what’s looking like the most enjoyable and difficult production of my life.”
As previously mentioned, he will be starring alongside good friend Sezairi (of Singapore Idol fame) as well as veterans such as Lim Kay Siu (who was last seen as LKY in the film 1965). We asked him what he thought about both Sezairi and Lim Kay Siu and here’s what he has to say. “I’m such a big fan of Sezairi it’s not funny. It’s definitely a dream come true to work with him in this capacity, and to play quite literally brothers from another mother. He’s a brilliant guy.” As for Kay Siu, there’s an obvious respect for such a veteran, which more or less confirms what we’ve always heard about him. “There’s a gravitas to Kay Siu’s stage presence that can’t be put in words. Even in rehearsals, you feel inexplicably drawn to him.”
Ben Kheng and Sezairi with some bromance PDA. Photo Credit: Sezairi
While he will be doing some singing in this upcoming pantomime, it’s not completely the same from his ‘day job’ as a musician. Some of the more obvious differences include “costume changes” but even for a pro, the usual fears of “lines [and] a paralysing fear of forgetting the choreography.” Yet the satisfaction, “the intense euphoria of telling a good story” should make it all worthwhile in the end. Emperor’s New Clothes is definitely worth checking it out (and not just because Ben Kheng is in it) but also because it’s the perfect combination of the entertainment value of a concert with the intriguing storytelling element of a musical. “This production has an extra challenge in the element of instrumentation – we’re all playing live instruments on top of everything else, so that should be fun.” What’s more, from the constant emphasis of all involved having “a damn good time,” you know that this will definitely be a fun watch.
Giving him a last chance to entice the general public on why they should check this out, here’s what he has to say. “I really shan’t spoil it for you, but it’s an incredible adaptation that gives so much to a wide age group; a 5 year old will love it a different way than a 50 year old would. It’s hilarious and moving in the same beat; we shed tears at rehearsals. For real.” We will definitely be catching Emperor’s New Clothes and we’ll update you guys on whether any tears (man tears of course) were shed by either the cast or the audience.
Ben Kheng has been a singer, actor, model, dancer and motivational speaker so there’s not exactly a lot that he hasn’t been. However, when asked on what else he’ll be interested in trying out, he was pretty firm with his answer. “I’d love to do a production in Mandarin, and see whether I make it out alive.” Perhaps he’ll make friends with JJ Lin and Mandopop will be his next musical foray.
In the meantime, as we wait for his foray into a Chinese production, we’ll have to make do him simply singing, playing various musical instruments, acting and dancing (all at once) in Emperor’s New Clothes. Tickets are now available at Sistic from $55. Emperor’s New Clothes will be available from Nov 20 to Dec 12 so end off your 2015 with Ben Kheng!