Cover Forever Young (Photo: Twitter / Hossan Leong)

The thespian sits down with Tatler Singapore for an interview about his much-anticipated comeback to the stage in the new musical ‘Forever Young’—a production that celebrates the talents and passions of the elderly in our society

Sing’theatre is shaking up the local theatre scene this September and October with a new, hilarious musical production titled Forever Young and it features a star-studded cast of local thespians that includes none other than our very own veteran comic and actor Gurmit Singh. He is making an exciting comeback to the local theatre scene after a long hiatus from the stage.

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As the musical chronicles the life of a group of retired actors living in a nursing home who are determined to prove that it is not all behind them, the story’s narrative trajectory closely resembles that of Singh’s life and career path when he left the stage 16 years ago and is only now returning to the world of drama—where he plays an older and wiser man in this production.

The parallels between the actor’s career journey and the story arc of his musical character remain a poignant takeaway amongst audiences of the production, and many fans are wondering where he's been all this time and what his relationship with the theatre is like.

We speak to the actor about his musical theatre experiences and inspiration points leading up to his comeback performance.

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Are you excited to be a part of a musical production like this one and how is it like to be reunited with some friends from the cast?

Gurmit Singh (GS): Of course. I have worked with Karen Tan, Hossan Leong and Denise Tan on stage. I had some interaction with Denise on radio when we both steered the ship, so I could already sense good chemistry between us back then. I have seen Mark Waite on stage before but I never had the chance to work with him, so I’m looking forward to working with him as well.

But the musical genre is something that I’m drawn to because it is where I can exercise my love for singing. If you asked me to drop everything and join a boy band, I’d do it because that’s just how much I love singing. I don’t think I’m a great singer like Freddie Mercury or Adam Lambert but something about singing just transports me to another space and time. I was even a lead singer in a band called Bauvles in my youth, where we would travel to countries like Indonesia to perform at gigs.

What are some of your everyday music inspirations a.k.a. songs that you sing on a daily basis or go-to karaoke hits?

GS: When I go to karaoke, I would sing What Do You Want From Me by Adam Lambert. His voice is phenomenal with his impressive range and high notes. I like ’80s music as well. I love Bon Jovi's Livin’ on a Prayer and OneRepublic’s Apologize and many of Rachel Marks’ songs.

You have recently dispelled the rumour that you took a hiatus from showbiz. Is it more accurate to say that you took a break from the stage?

GS: No, I simply resigned from Mediacorp as a full-time artist and went on to do freelance work.

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Now that you’re coming back to the stage and you’re doing this production, what are the ways do you think you have changed as a performer? 

GS: I think I am more experienced and have gone through more hurdles in life now so I can tackle whatever comes my way. In a musical, you have to remember the lines, the words, the lyrics, the blocking and to be able to sing on pitch. And you can’t stop in the middle of a song as it is incredibly disruptive for the rehearsal process.

It’s just one take when it comes to singing so I have that experience to hold me steady. I still get as jittery as I was 30 years ago when I took on my first gig on TV and stage, and it bothered me as I felt I had to live up to the expectation of being a veteran in the business.

But it hit me one day that nerves are a good thing because it means that I care about my performance and I don’t waste people’s time and money on set. I think the nerves keep the adrenaline going and keeps me fresh, alert and hungry to deliver a good performance for everyone.

Where can we usually find you 15 minutes before a show?

GS: I will be visiting the washroom, drinking water, praying, washing my face, pacing up and down, and just be a total nervous wreck. But I would keep my emotions to myself as I wouldn’t want to affect the rest of the cast and crew. When the show is over, I would then feel so much relief and satisfaction.

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You mentioned that a lot of your engagements were cancelled because of the pandemic. What did you do during that time as a freelancer?

GS: At one point I was thinking of becoming a taxi or Grab driver like most people. The irony is that because of the pandemic, Phua Chu Kang was resurrected from Singapore’s TV history with the ad on how to wash your hands properly. Within a week, the government agency sent me an email requesting for me to do a rap about the pandemic like the one for SARS in 2003.

They sent me the lyrics of the rap and then I would shoot the audio and the video all in one fell swoop. I had hardly memorised the lyrics and it was an 18-hour shoot. So I was really pressed for time to get it done. After that, an opportunity to shoot for Shopee came. So that was a blessing in disguise. As things are slowly opening up, I hope the virtual events that I have been doing will soon move into physical events.

What has been your biggest pillar of support this whole time?

GS: It would have to be my family. I’ll go through anything to provide for them. Even if it meant becoming a Grab driver. It’s always been about how I can provide for my family and being a good father and husband.

How did you come across this production?

GS: Hossan Leong contacted me directly since we’ve been in conversation for the last few years, and he would always ask me about when I’m coming back to theatre. Then the conversation halted when the pandemic happened. But then recently he brought this musical up to me and ran me through the synopsis and character profile.

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Does it scare you to play an old person or an older version of yourself in a musical like this?

GS: Not really. The other actors are playing a hybrid of other well-known people but Hossan wanted me to play myself as Mr Jokester. It was interesting for me to go through the nuances of the story and lines, and work to form the character of an older version of me.

Do you think you'll be adding your own quirks to the character and improvising as well?

GS: I would maybe say some lines that I use for a particular variety show or sitcoms that people in the audience can relate to.

Apart from being in this show, have you watched any theatre plays recently? What excites you about being in the theatre?

GS: The last theatre production I watched was Pangdemonium’s Urinetown. I initially thought there was a spelling mistake in the name of the play in the ticket that I bought with a name like ‘Urinetown’. I really didn’t know what to expect as I was so out of touch with literature and musicals, but I enjoyed it very much.

I once said: what ballet is to dance is what theatre is to acting. You need to physically do it at least once as you are then able to jumpstart the necessary senses for the movie and TV world. For TV, you get the luxury of doing it over and over again until you get the right take, but it becomes passé if you keep doing the same act without a fresh perspective every now and then.

For theatre, it’s a do or die situation like when I did a play called My Lonely Tarts and I started Act Two with the wrong line. Instead of starting with ‘Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall’, I began with ‘Humpty Dumpty had a great fall’ and I had to improvise from there! So theatre is all about rolling with the punches and being fluid in rectifying mistakes.

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