Lea Salonga wears her heart on stage
Lea Salonga has been wowing audiences with her perfect pitch and talent for decades, even as a child, acting and singing on stage in her native Philippines. By 18, she had conquered the theater world as the female lead, Kim, in the original “Miss Saigon” in London’s West End and when it came to Broadway, it won her a Tony Award. She has accrued many awards and broken cultural barriers by being the first Asian actress to win a Tony and the first to portray Eponine in “Les Misérables.”
Fans will also recognized her singing as Princess Jasmine in Disney’s “Aladdin” and as Fa Mulan in “Mulan” and its sequel. She recently finished a run as Erzulie, the goddess of love, in the Broadway revival of “Once On This Island,” which won the 2018 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.
Having sold 19 million albums worldwide, making her one of the best-selling Filipina artists, Salonga has toured around the globe and on her current tour, Lea Salonga: The Human Heart Tour, she has consistently been selling out venues. She will perform at the Ridgefield Playhouse on May 12.
Salonga said what she was most excited about for her tour was just being able to perform. After breaking her tibia in a skiing accident in Japan in January, she said she had to wait to get a doctor’s clearance to travel and is currently making her way onto stage with the help of crutches. “Just to get back up on a stage to perform — that has just been such a joy.”
Her recent shows feature a mix of tunes from the show she made famous to contemporary songs and even throwbacks, like “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles. “We mix and match from a lot of concerts that I have done in the past and musicals that I have been a part of,” she said.
The name of the tour refers to a song from “Once On This Island,” “The Human Heart” and speaks to many emotions. “It’s all different aspects of the heart: emotion, love, feeling and the heart reaching out to care for someone or a heart that recoils from something that breaks it,” she said.
As she gets older, her perspective on music and songs has changed. Taking on the role of Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” for example, she said she has gained deeper insight into Stephen Sondheim’ lyrics. Of note, her role in Sweeney Todd which kicks off in October, takes her back to Manila. “It’s one of my favorite shows,” she said, noting she first listened to the original cast album while doing “Miss Saigon” in London, “not thinking I would ever do that show 30 years later.”
Salonga says she fell in love with Sondheim’s music in her 30s and 40s. “As I got older, that’s when it felt like I actually understood what the man was trying to say. In my 20s, I was more interested in the more superficial stuff, but as I got older, I realized his shows’ genius. They tap into real emotion. And how songs, like ‘Send In the Clowns,’ can be so simple, but so explosive in their quiet simplicity.”
Having mastered the concert tour and theater stage, Salonga also recently landed on the big screen in “Yellow Rose,” which debuted May 2-10 at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. She stars along with Eva Noblezada, who played Kim in “Miss Saigon” in the Broadway revival in 2017, in this music-driven film that is prescient as it took about 15 years to get made but was released at a time when immigrants are being demonized. Salonga said she believes in following the letter and spirit of the law but said, “These are not animals, these are not undesirables, they are not anything but human beings.”
For more information about Salonga’s concert, visit ridgefieldplayhouse.org.