Drag, art and history come together at Boom Boom Room

Regular club-hoppers in the 1990s have probably heard of Boom Boom Room, the drag cabaret venue once located on Bugis Street. Created by local composer Dick Lee, the venue at that time featured female impersonators and drag queens, who entertained sailors and curious audiences with their mind-boggling men-to-women transformation and lip-sync/comedic performances.

More than 30 years later, Boom Boom Room is back for a limited run at Marina Bay Sands. The show has also sought to reinvent itself with contemporary acts, bringing in performers from Las Vegas while also giving air time to local artists.

The "OG Diva" Kumar will be making an appearance with his signature standup comedy, accompanied by the original queens of Boom Boom Room – Helda and Lys – as well as drag artist Vanda Miss Joaquim, accompanied by her house of two newcomer drag queens, Anna Stacia and Tiara Sorrel.

L to R: Helda, Nat Ho, Kumar, Vanda Miss Joaquim, Tiara Sorrel, Lysa and Anna Stacia. (Photo: Marina Bay Sands)
L to R: Helda, Nat Ho, Kumar, Vanda Miss Joaquim, Tiara Sorrel, Lysa and Anna Stacia. (Photo: Marina Bay Sands) (Yasin Rahim)

Contemporary acts all the way from Las Vegas include the world's first holographic Cyr Wheel performance by David Matz, as well as Jade, the Drag King aerialist. Audience will also be entertained by Mark Wong, a mentalist/magician with a mind-bending act; serenaded by homegrown singer Nat Ho, and excited by performance group BomBoxx Dancers.

Creative Director Dick Lee introduces Boom Boom Room (Photo: Marina Bay Sands)
Creative Director Dick Lee introduces Boom Boom Room (Photo: Marina Bay Sands) (Yasin Rahim)

Dick Lee, Creative Director of Boom Boom Room, said, "It's time to have fun and walk down memory lane... to the future! Boom Boom Room, which I created in 1991, is back, bolder and better! Reimagined as a contemporary cabaret, this dynamic drag extravaganza features Boom Boom Room’s original Kumar and a bevvy of fabulous queens, alongside other surprise entertainers. So, get dressed up and see you for an evening of much-needed craziness!"

Boom Boom Room will run at Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Hall C, from Nov 24 to Dec 19. Tickets start from S$98. A total of seven shows each week with varying timings from weekdays to weekends will be open to guests. For more details, check out this link.

The OG Boom Boom Room

It was at the OG Boom Boom Room where Kumar got his big break, as he was offered the starring role at the new establishment in 1992. There, Kumar’s routines included song and dance in addition to stand-up comedy. He wrote most of his own scripts filled with clean jokes, which, unfortunately, were not as popular as the risqué jokes and observations about daily life in Singapore, which he is now famous for.

Apart from stand-up performances, Kumar also performed with fellow queens Helda and Lys, to popular tunes of the era.

On their own, these two queens are also powerhouse performers. Helda was the host of Asia’s Uncut Season 1 on Star World and has walked for Jean-Paul Gaultier during Singapore Fashion Week 2007. Lys is known for her impersonations of divas such as Madonna, Lady Gaga and Marilyn Monroe, while also being an esteemed choreographer and regular feature at shows such as ActionforAids, Pinkdot and Hyper Sundays.

When asked about how he felt about the evolution of Boom Boom Room, Dick Lee has this to say.

"I'd like to think that Singaporeans have always only seen Boom Boom Room as pure entertainment, putting aside the original connotations of transvestites in association with Bugis Street. In fact, it seemed that the public even celebrated the tradition that was Bugis Street."

After Bugis Street got slated to develop into the shopping attraction it is today, Boom Boom Room relocated to Far East Square in 2000, before shutting its door for good in 2004.

The evolution of drag culture

While decentralised after Boom Boom Room's closure, drag found a way to survive in Singapore through small communities and shows across the tiny island.

When asked about what he thinks are the main differences between the old and new queens, and what advice might he have for aspiring drag queens, Kumar reflected.

"There’s really not much of a difference except to evolve with the trend. We had Boom Boom Room where we performed regularly so old queens had more experiences. There’s no place for the new queens to perform and gain more experience nowadays. They must be able to take constructive criticism and believe in themselves."

Still, more than a decade later, drag culture has been elevated to an art form beyond big wigs, dramatic makeup, sky-high heels and on-point lip-syncs.

Drag queens are now triple threats and more, and can be expected to lip-sync, act, sing, dance, host, model, paint their faces and make costumes, all rolled into one fabulous package.

This transformation could be partly attributed to RuPaul's Drag Show, a reality television series from America which started in 2009. The series, which is available on Netflix Singapore, proved so popular that it's now going into its 14th season, with multiple spin-offs including international franchises.

"Drag as Performance Art has evolved immensely, thanks to TV shows like RuPaul's Drag Race crossing over into the mainstream, and the younger audience appreciating and supporting it unbiasedly." Dick Lee said.

It's at Drag Race Thailand, a reality competition based on the show, that Vanda Miss Joaquim represented Singapore and ending her reign at fourth place. She has this to say for aspiring drag queens in Singapore.

“I am drawn to queens who are genuine and take pride in the drag artistry and consistently pushing their craft to the next level. Someone with a strong stage presence and who has the courage to take risks are key traits to be an engaging performer. I want to be blown away - be it with an emotional number, an energetic dance flairs or even a silly comedic performance. Keep that passion burning and you’ll stay long in the game.”

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