With a career spanning close to four decades, Filipina singer Lea Salonga is today one of the most loved stars of musical theatre on the world stage.
It was 1989 when, at 18-years-old, Salonga originated the role of Kim in the London West End production of Miss Saigon – a part that she had won after producer Cameron Mackintosh had conducted a mammoth worldwide search for the right actress to play the part. Salonga already enjoyed fame as a child star in The Philippines, but her leading role in Boublil’s and Schönberg’s second smash hit marked the start of an incredible international career that would earn her legions of fans across the globe. After winning a prestigious Laurence Olivier Award for her performance as Kim, Salonga reprised the role in the Broadway premiere, earning several further accolades including becoming the first woman of Asian descent to win a Tony Award.
Since that time, Salonga has built a remarkable CV that’s included providing the singing voice of two Disney princesses – Princess Jasmine in the hit musical film Aladdin and then, later, Fa Mulan in Disney’s Mulan and Mulan II – playing the roles of Éponine and Fantine in Les Misérables on Broadway, and touring extensively around the world as a hugely successful concert artist. Salonga is also one of the highest selling Filipino recording artists of all time, having sold approximately 19 million records worldwide. She’s performed for six Philippine presidents (including Ferdinand Marcos and Benigno S. Aquino Ill), three American Presidents (George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush), and for Diana, Princess of Wales, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
It’s as concert artist that, this week, Sydney and Melbourne have the opportunity to enjoy an audience with this musical theatre icon, as she brings Lea Salonga In Concert to our shores. It’s a concert experience that sees Salonga performing with the entire Sydney Symphony Orchestra (in Melbourne, she will take the stage with Orchestra Victoria) and, under the musical direction of her younger brother, Gerard Salonga (himself a multi-award-winning musical director, conducter and arranger), she’s performing a setlist that encompasses both songs she herself has made famous, as well as a range of other classics from the musical theatre back catalogue.
From the moment she arrives on the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall stage for her first of three sold-out concerts, Salonga is captivating. Kicking off with a performance of ‘Another Hundred People’ from the Stephen Sondheim 1970 classic Company, the singer immediately impresses with the vocal power and pitch perfection for which she’s become renowned. Salonga is genuinely a joy to listen to and, backed by the heft of the SSO, this is an utterly glorious experience.
As the evening progresses, Salonga makes her way through a diverse set and each number is as compelling as the next. There’s her wonderful performance of the inescapable hit Let it go from 2013’s Frozen; her poignant delivery of Burn from 2016 juggernaut Hamilton and, most surprisingly, a take on One Direction’s ‘Story of my life’ that introduces the UK boy band’s hit to a whole new audience with spectacular success. And while she’s never donned the green makeup herself, Salonga demonstrates what a fine Elphaba she’d make, pulling off Wicked’s challenging signature tune ‘Defying Gravity’ with ease.
On top of the unexpected gems, Salonga enchants her audience with the songs that have seen her earn an enormous global following. ‘A Whole New World’ sounds as pristine as it did in the 1992 film (perhaps, even better), ‘I enjoy being a girl’ from Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song is delightful, and the back-to-back performance of two of Les Misérables’ most iconic pieces, ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ and ‘On my own’, are worth the price of a ticket alone.
This is a stunning concert event. Salonga leaves us without a shadow of a doubt as to why she’s come to be regarded as one of the very finest artists on the musical theatre stage. Her voice is astonishing, and she never falters for a moment; not a breath or a note out of place, and each performance is emotionally charged but never in danger of feeling overwrought. She captivates from start to finish, and it’s rare to encounter such vocal perfection.
The support from the mighty SSO is also exquisite and Gerard Salonga’s musical arrangements never miss the mark. Even Peter Rubie’s lighting design warrants mention for its subtle but significant impact on mood enhancement.
Early on in the evening, Salonga told the audience that taking to the Sydney Opera House stage to perform meant ticking a major item off her bucket list. For local musical theatre fans, seeing Salonga perform live on stage should be considered precisely the same.
Remaining performances of Lea Salonga In Concert at the Sydney Opera House are now sold out. Limited seats are still available for Melbourne shows.
LEA SALONGA IN CONCERT – MELBOURNE EVENT DETAILS
Venue: Hamer Hall – Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates and time: Tuesday 7th February 8pm & Wednesday 8th February 8pm
Tickets: artscentremelbourne.com.au or by phone 1300 182 183
** Tickets can also be purchased at ticketmaster.com.au or by phone on 1300 723 038