Hers is a name that needs little introduction in Singapore’s entertainment scene. Beyond her run as Phua Chu Kang’s long-suffering sister-in-law that made her a household name on local television, Tan Kheng Hua is also a celebrated actress on the theatre scene and an established producer with critically-acclaimed productions under her belt.
We at PREP Luxe have the great honour of calling her both friend and client, and in the time we’ve gotten to know her, we’ve discovered the only thing that surpasses the largeness of her theatrical resume, is her heart. And her spunk. Which, we’ve had the privilege of finding out, she has lots and lots of. Her latest project as the producer of Tropicana, a comedy-musical inspired by the lavish, Las Vegas-style nightclub Tropicana in the 60s, was a huge leap of faith professionally and personally. And remember we said large heart? She took time out for us in the middle of what could be the craziest week leading to opening day, to talk about her incredible journey leading this production and her partnership with PREP Luxe in this musical.
PREP: Tropicana was such a colourful and vibrant slice of Singapore’s entertainment scene in the sixties. Do share with us what inspired you to create a story out of it and bring it to life on stage.
KH: People think Tropicana The Musical is a musical about tits, because it is inspired by Singapore and South East Asia’s first and most successful topless nightclub. But this musical is less about tits than it is about balls. The balls of a handful of passionate, fearless, imaginative dreamers who went all the way in fighting for their visions no matter how incredible it may have seemed at that time.
In the 1960s, we were truly a global city of the arts – and it was led not by government agenda, or grants, but by fiercely independent vision. We had a thriving movie making scene. Our local bands outsold even the Beatles. We had local department stores of unique local flavour. A local ladies magazine then that has survived and exists today as Singapore’s number one women’s interest magazine and online liftstyle network. A theatre-maker willing to spend time incarcerated to stand up for his beliefs whose daughter carries on his work today. A nightclub unparalleled in the region on which this musical is drawing inspiration from. And of course, a nation-builder out to change the entire paradigm of how people lived on this tiny island.
PREP: You’re a veteran of the theatre and television scene in Singapore and were the creative and executive brains behind notable productions such as Do Not Disturb and The Twenty-Something Festival. Although Tropicana will not be your first theatrical undertaking as a producer, it will be one of the biggest projects you’ve ever led. I’m sure you’ve learnt new things and grown both professionally and personally in this journey thus far. What has been your biggest (or favourite) lesson to date in producing this musical?
KH: The biggest lesson, now, always and forever is that, love conquers all. With every moment of doubt or disappointment, it has always been made better because someone loved the bad moment into something good. And when you surround yourself with people who are as good in heart and mind as I have in this production, the love is always expressed in ways that benefit everyone and makes everyone a better person.
PREP: You could have remained quite content in the comfort your amazing career in entertainment has brought you, yet you have chosen to take this big leap and invest professionally, financially and personally into this project. We are inspired by your boldness and vision in bringing together some of Singapore’s best theatre talents to create this musical. And because courage is infectious, we want to hear from you what emboldened you to do this, to take a chance on something you had never done before.
KH: I am 54. I have paid off my mortgage and been in two careers in my lifetime, both of which I have nursed to a place where I feel I can be proud of. I have been married for nearly 25 years and had enough ups and downs to feel a little wiser. I have a daughter who is 19 and is on her way to going overseas to university and starting a life of her own.
Some people at this stage of their lives take out all their savings and open the café they have always wanted to open, or take the round-the-world-trip they have always wanted to take, or get divorced and start a new life, or retire and do nothing. Well, at this point in my life, I wanted to devote myself, my love for theatre and my savings into a project I can truly call my own. It is something I have always wanted to do. And at this point in my life, I can do it. So here I am! Doing it!
PREP: That’s amazing and we are inspired by the chances you’re willing to take on a passion project like this. Also, not only did you take a chance on yourself and your team to put this musical together, but you’ve also extended an opportunity to the PREP Luxe team to be a part of this exciting production. It is not often that a hair salon gets called beyond the everyday realm of cuts and blowouts, to help bring to life a story on stage. Why did you decide to take a chance on us instead of falling back to tried-and-true professional stage stylists?
KH: In the time I have gotten to know Prep Luxe, I have grown to not just love them, but admire how they get about their business, treat people, create. They are everything I love about collaborators. The most hard working, brave, adventurous, thought-out, humble and good-hearted and kind. They are also so damn good at what they do. I have taken them on this roller-coaster ride and I am so thankful every day for their trust, talent and energy.
We have so much appreciation for Kheng Hua for her kind words about our team, her steadfast support of the work we do, and the confidence she’s placed in us to glamourise the tresses of her talented cast in this upcoming musical. We wish her and her team nothing but love and luck as they put in final preparations for opening night this Thursday. Tropicana The Musical will run from 13 – 30 April at the Capitol Theatre. So fans of PREP and fans of the theatre, if you have not gotten your tickets, it’s not too late and you can still purchase them on the SISTIC website here.