Lea Salonga has an enviable and extensive career in musical theatre that first began when she was just a child.
“ I had a cousin who was very active in musical theatre at the time. I sang at a family party and I think she heard me sing, so she told my Mom to take me to an audition of The King and I for a local repertory group. So my Mom did – and that got kind of get everything started. I started working on The King and I when I was seven years old and I kept getting cast in musicals. I got to do the title role in Annie and I did The Sound of Music. Then I started making records and it kept on going on and on from there,” explained Salonga, who added that it was always a lot of fun and never something she was forced to do as a child.
“I was doing ballet lessons from when I was about 3 or 4, but like a lot of little girls. I think that was something everyone in my family had to do. It has served me well. But I think the singing was just something that … kind of just appeared! My cousin was a really, really good singer … and my Dad did sing when he was younger, but I think in my family, in terms of making it since childhood, I think that might have just been me,” she said.
The progression from child performer to making a career from it as an adult was a natural one. Salonga continued to perform as her school schedule would allow and then just kept going.
At the age of 18, Lea Salonga originated the lead role of Kim in Miss Saigon in the West End and then on Broadway, becoming the first Asian woman to win a Tony Award. Salonga was the first Asian to play Eponine in Les Misérables on Broadway. She returned to play the role of Fantine in the 2006 revival. Salonga was made a ‘Disney Legend’ having been the singing voice of two Disney Princesses – Aladdin’s ‘Princess Jasmine’ and the title role in Mulan.
Despite all this success, there was one thing she hadn’t yet done: perform at the Sydney Opera House. Salonga was visiting the world famous Opera House last year with her agent, when she said to him, “I want to sing here someday.”
He responded with, “Let’s get to work on that then!”
He did. And now Lea Salonga will perform at Sydney’s Opera House on Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th February, 2017.
“Oh my gosh! It’s definitely a bucket list item! It is something that I didn’t think would ever happen … (Producer) Michael Cassel is bringing me over and I am so excited. When I have my first rehearsal there I might just drop to the floor and cry! It will be something very special.”
Sharing this special moment will be her brother, Gerard Salonga, who is also her musical director and will be conducting the concert event.
“I’m just excited to go – and it’s a symphony orchestra that’s going to play behind me! It’s unreal! It’s something very special to have a massive orchestra play. There’s nothing like it!” exclaimed Salonga.
Lea Salonga knows her audience expects to hear her perform certain songs.
“We have a list of the ‘must do’ – my brother has that list. It includes Miss Saigon, it includes Les Mis, and it definitely includes songs from the two Disney films I got to do. So there’s going to be ‘Reflection’ (Mulan) and I’ll definitely do ‘A Whole New World’ (Aladdin). So there’s that list,” explained Salonga.
There is also a second list of songs for her concerts – a list that she says is “constantly changing”. It includes some older Disney numbers and songs from composers such as Rogers and Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim, but also includes more contemporary musical theatre composers like Jason Robert Brown. It also includes songs from the current Broadway hit, Hamilton.
“I think it’s going to be a really nice repertoire of music that we’re going to be bringing,” said Salonga, who explained she looks for songs that she connects to or can relate to in some way.
Of course, performing a song as a character in a musical is very different to delivering the number in a concert. Salonga presents them differently, admitting she needs to take them a little out of context, particularly for audiences who have never seen a particular musical.
“If it’s something that hasn’t arrived in Australia, like Hamilton, I have to set it up in a way that audiences will get what the song is about and then just perform it as honestly and emotionally as I can. I have to be emotionally honest, even if it’s a concert,” commented Salonga.
Some of Lea Salonga’s concert preparation involves conversations with the orchestrator of a particular song.
“For example, for the orchestration of the song ‘Burn’, it was a woman who orchestrated that. The song ‘Burn’ is performed in Hamilton by the wife of Alexander Hamilton, following a very public sex scandal that she has to deal with. So the orchestrator is crying while listening to the song and saying, ‘This is getting me right here, this is so painful,’ and she has to wipe her tears just to be able to put the notes down on paper or onto her computer screen. It’s an emotional journey as much for the orchestrator as it is for the performer. It’s nice when you know they’ve put their heart into the orchestrations. You can feel it when you’re singing it and you can hear it.”
Following her debut performance at the Sydney Opera House, Lea Salonga will perform at Melbourne’s Hamer Hall.
“I can’t wait. I cannot wait!” Salonga exclaimed emphatically.
Don’t miss this very special “bucket-list” event.
LEA SALONGA WITH THE SSO
CONCERT HALL – SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE
Friday 3rd February 8pm, Saturday 4th February 2pm and 8pm
02 8215 4600
LEA SALONGA IN CONCERT
HAMER HALL – ARTS CENTRE MELBOURNE
Tuesday 7th February 8pm & Wednesday 8 h February 8pm
1300 182 183
TICKETS FOR BOTH CITIES CAN ALSO BE PURCHASED AT TICKETMASTER
1300 723 038