Singer-Songwriter Benjamin Kheng has turned his songs into a new musical, Detention Katong. Here, he talks about composing for Singapore’s funniest theatre company, Dream Academy.
Singapore’s funniest theatre company, Dream Academy, is set to make waves with their newest musical, Detention Katong. Reminiscing school life in the heart of Katong, Selena Tan’s original number about the stories found in detention is charmed with music accompanied by Benjamin Kheng of The Sam Willows.
We speak to Benjamin about his musical inspirations behind composing for Detention Katong. Take a guess if this talented singer-songwriter was a rebel or the teacher’s pet in school.
This is your first time writing and arranging music for a musical. What is the songwriting process for a musical? Surely it’s different from the usual process with The Sam Willows.
Writing for a musical is a very daunting task. I grew up listening to and loving musicals, and the brief for Detention Katong was very different from anything I’ve done before. When Director Selena Tan contacted me 6 months ago, her vision was to produce a new-age musical with pop influence, and as fun as that sounds, it was hard because it’s not as straightforward as creating a full 3-minute number.
I decided, “That sounds ridiculous and crazy – I’m down for it.” and I started writing the arrangements in December; writing for a musical requires for me to push the story forward, involve the characters and encompass a right amount of dramatic tension.
There are several notable names in the music line-up too – did you also work alongside the other musicians?
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to work together at all. It’s quite a bummer because we do have quite a fresh line-up of musicians behind Detention Katong – you’ve got DJ Aldrin, Dave Tan (Electrico) and Roy Tan (of Leos and Virgos), and everyone brings such a different flavour to the table.
You wrote 3 songs for the musical. Which is a personal favourite and why?
This is hard. I think my favourite would have to be one of the highlights: it’s called Detention and it’s almost an anthem for rebellion because it shares the allure and the kick of being in detention. It has a large symphonic sound and a revolutionary presence, and I like to think it has some Incubus influence too. I pulled inspirations from some old and new sounds, and it turned out to be the least “pop” of all the songs, even though it does come with some rapping!
Were you the rebellious one back in school?
[Laughs] No man, I was such a loser! Even between Narelle (Kheng, sister and bandmate from The Sam Willows) and I, she is definitely crazier and I was the obedient one who’d always listen to my Dad to uphold the big brother figure. Get this: I never had a curfew because I never needed one. I’m planning to embark on it (rebellious phase) soon, 10 years too late.
You spent a few years at the Singapore Sports School. How strict were the rules there – was there ever detention?
There would be lessons, a mandatory nap time, training and study time daily and we ran on a very tight schedule, so because of this structure, there was never really time for “punishments” or detention. Their way of discipline was to issue us Yellow and Red cards – super tacky!
You’re usually on stage as the lead actor for the musicals you’re involved in. How does it feel to be offstage and with the production team this time?
To be honest, it feels great! Being a part of production means the only key is the story, and the need to be aware of how you look onstage is eliminated. It feels wonderful to be a part of the creative process! It has been fun being on the other side and creating the world for actors to live in for Detention Katong.
Which character should we look out for?
Just as a personal bias, I’d say look out for Inch (Chua). In real life, she’s a soulful songstress, and it’s so much fun to watch her play this rebellious character, rocking out with her bob cut and dancing to crazy songs.
Dream Academy has its classics – Dim Sum Dollies, Broadway Beng to name a few. Do you think Detention Katong would be etched in the audience’s mind and turn into a Dream Academy classic too?
I hope so. Even the play on words of the musical’s name will resonate with both local and international audiences of all ages. That’s the charm of Dream Academy, as a unit they’ve always dared to take crazy risks – from Broadway Beng to Crazy Christmas to The Henderson Project – they take their bold ideas to the next level.
Date: 17 February to 5 March
Venue: Esplanade Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive, Singapore
Tel: +65 6828 8377
Price: SG$50 – SG$150