Judee Tan: My dad gave Dettol as a gift one Christmas

Dream Academy cast share some of their wackiest Yuletide tales


(L–R) Denise Tan, Sebastian Tan, Selena Tan and Judee Tan demonstrate how they dress for the holidays

Photos: Zara Zhuang
Video: Tan Shi Qi, Vanessa Lim

Dr Teo Chew Moi (TCM) actress Judee Tan once received a most unique Christmas present: Dettol disinfectant. And it wasn’t just a jug of the antiseptic fluid; the hefty hamper included an aerosol spray.

“I don’t really traditionally celebrate Christmas because I’m very ching chong (conservatively Chinese),” Judee said. “One time my family tried to get into the festive spirit and do a gift exchange, but my father is old and he doesn’t understand what kind of gifts to get so he just bought Dettol!”

And Gold 905 FM DJ and newly minted Dim Sum Dolly Denise Tan shared her nutty Noel narrative. “Christmas is a big thing in my family,” she said. “Many people come over, everyone has champagne and the bubbles get to them.”

“It gets really loud and raucous in my family because I have many aunties and uncles and they all love to sing and dance — they should be on stage, not me! And sometimes we end up doing drunken Christmas carolling or drunken disco dance competitions.”


(R–L) Actors Karen Tan, Judee Tan, Denise Tan, Michaela Therese and Selena Tan at vocal rehearsal with Music Director Elaine Chan (in blue)

Topping one another’s wacky holiday stories was the order of the day at the first big-group rehearsal for the upcoming Crazy Christmas — A groundNUTCRACKER, opening on December 10 at the Esplanade Theatre. We caught up with some of the cast to find out more about the latest iteration of the local production, but the conversation sometimes metamorphosed into the interior monologue of an unabashed comedian.

“There are a lot of people in it,” said Selena Tan, the founder of the theatre company Dream Academy. “There’s Judee Tan, who plays Dr Teo Chew Moi, there’s Broadway Beng…”

“Of course I’m the star lah,” volunteered Sebastian Tan, who portrays the Hokkien gua-singing showman. “I’m the nut.”

“He’s the nut and we’re the nutcracker!” Denise offered.

“Yeah that didn’t sound right,” Sebastian thought aloud. “Anyway! What’s coming up?”

“Eh she’s the interviewer lah!” Selena replied with a laugh. “You give this man a mic and he won’t let go of it!”


(L–R) Petrina Kow, Robin Goh, Caleb Goh, George Chan and Sebastian Tan work through Crazy Christmas's opening number

Seven years running
The seventh production of Crazy Christmas promises a host of new skits: Kumar plays a secret service elf trying to steal some groundnuts and he tells the groundnutcracker story as Santa, while the Dim Sum Dollies appear as crestfallen opposition party members who head out for Christmas-time retail therapy post-election.

Crazy Christmas has wonderful things going for it,” said the show’s co-director Selena. “It’s almost like friends coming at the end of the year to celebrate after a whole year of craziness, it’s friends on stage and in the audience coming together to have this warm, cuddly, cosy feeling of Christmas.”

And to ensure the spirit of giving is part of the show, the cast are taking part in the Giving Week campaign this year to raise funds for the Henderson Senior Activity Centre and The Emma Yong Fund. The latter aids theatre practitioners suffering critical illnesses and is named after one-third of the original Dim Sum Dollies trio, who passed away in 2012 from stomach cancer.


Birthday bash
Dream Academy celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, and from its humble beginnings — “I didn’t expect anything when I started,” Selena said, “I just wanted to do some stand-up comedy” — the company has grown to encompass an ensemble cast of characters including Broadway Beng, Kumar and Dr TCM. And some of the actors shared their favourite moments over the years.

“Just the fact that Dream Academy has grown and expanded like a balloon [is memorable],” Judee said. “Starting from just Selena and then the Dollies, and next she’s gonna introduce Cina and Minah (starring Siti Khalijah and Judee as a comedic duo), ... I feel lucky to be part of this team that celebrates local talent and comedy.”

Sebastian said acting as Broadway Beng changed his career, but the first day of the show was so nerve-wracking for him that the contents of his stomach defied gravity. “[Selena and I] found this out later, but just a few seconds before the show was about to start we both went to the toilet to vomit,” he said.

Selena replied, “This kind of thing don’t need to say.” But Sebastian went on: “But good vomit lah, it’s the emotional vomit.”


Denise considered every first Dream Academy show she performed in a highlight. “My very first Crazy Christmas was, ‘Oh my gosh,’” she said. “[Selena told me] you’re gonna sing a solo, interact with the audience, bring one of them on stage and sing to them, and inside secretly I was freaking out!”

But after 15 years or so of collaborating, the crew’s working relationship has only become more familial. “I think when you first start out working together you try to be very professional,” Denise said. “And now we’re friends this is what happens!”

Selena replied, “Eh I’m very serious, OK. I mean, we’re very professional, but we have a lot of fun. Professionally.”

“And I’m just professionally fun!” Sebastian said.

Denise added, “I’m a fun professional!”

CRAZY CHRISTMAS — A groundNUTCRACKER runs from December 10 to 19 at the Esplanade Theatre at 8 pm (Tuesday through Saturday) and 3 pm (Saturday and Sunday). Tickets are priced from $66 to $116 (excludes booking fee) and are available from SISTIC or its booking hotline (6348 5555).

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