Thursday, January 03, 2008

Lea Salonga Shines in Southern California

Regular readers of James & Tim's Blog might remember my post about Susan Egan where I lamented about how my other favorite Disney-meets-Broadway star, Lea Salonga, seldom performs in Southern California. Well as it turns out, shortly after I published that post, I was happily proven wrong!

Lea Salonga had a rare Southern California concert appearance. (01/03/2008)
Lea Salonga had a rare Southern California concert appearance. (01/03/2008)

Lea Salonga was doing a rare Southern California concert appearance at San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in Highland, California. Although the location was about 60 miles away from where we live, I was determined to see this performance.

Lea Salonga was at the San Manuel Indian Casino. (01/03/2008)
Lea Salonga was at the San Manuel Indian Casino. (01/03/2008)

Like Susan Egan, Lea Salonga perfectly embodies my love of musical theatre and Disney animated films. Born and raised in the Philippines, Maria Ligaya Carmen Imutan Salonga was a regional stage performer until 1989 when she was selected to play the female lead of a new stage production debuting in the London West End. The show turned out to be the megahit Miss Saigon, which thrust Lea into international fame. When Miss Saigon came to New York two years later, Lea Salonga reprised her role on Broadway.

Lea Salonga, with Simon Bowman, in Miss Saigon. (09/1989)
Lea Salonga, with Simon Bowman, in Miss Saigon. (09/1989)

After Miss Saigon, Lea Salonga landed the role of Eponine in the Broadway production of Les Misérables, becoming the first Asian to play the role. She reprised the role of Eponine in London, and was ultimately asked to join the dream cast for the 1995 10th anniversary concert performance at London's Royal Albert Hall. Last year she joined the cast of the Broadway revival of Les Misérables, but this time as the older Fantine instead of the young Eponine. Even Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo flew to New York to see Lea in the role.

Lea Salonga as Fantine in Les Misérables. (2007)
Lea Salonga as Fantine in Les Misérables. (2007)

But despite the thousands of musical theatre performances, Lea's most widely seen work is her work with the Disney animation studios. Lea was selected to be the singing voice of Jasmine for the 1992 blockbuster hit Aladdin. She followed that with the singing voice in the title role of the 1998 hit Mulan.

Lea Salonga was the singing voice of Jasmine in the Disney film Aladdin. (1992)
Lea Salonga was the singing voice of Jasmine in the Disney film Aladdin. (1992)

With a resumé like that, you can see why I was so excited to see her perform live. The icing on the cake was that my ticket was in the third row (and it was no small theater by any stretch). I got there about 30 minutes before showtime, but it wasn't nearly enough. The will call line was longer than anything I've seen.

Lea Salonga was the singing voice of Disney's Mulan. (1998).
Lea Salonga was the singing voice of Disney's Mulan. (1998)

Then you had to get through security, which was the tightest I've ever seen for a concert. Seriously, it was like airpot security. And don't even try to sneak a camera inside. If they caught you with a camera, they made you go to the camera check-in, which also had a terribly long line. As it turned out, the show started 40 minutes late. Even so, I barely got into my seat just three minutes before showtime (no joke).

The best picture I could get of Lea with my camera phone. (01/03/2008)
The best picture I could get of Lea with my camera phone. (01/03/2008)

For nearly 90 minutes, we were dazzled by Lea's amazing voice. Backed by a 5-piece band, Lea performed a variety of songs, and sounded amazing. She apologized for not sounding as good as she normally does, since she was coming down with a headcold. None of us in the audience could tell. Seriously, she sounded fantastic!

She opened her set with "Something's Comin'" from West Side Story, followed by the ballad, "I've Never Been in Love." Afterward she sang a Filipino song called "Hahanapin Ko." (I'd estimate that at least two thirds of the audience was Filipino). Although I didn't understand the lyrics, it was a beatiful song.


I picked up Lea Salonga's most recent album, Inspired. (01/03/2008)
I picked up Lea Salonga's most recent album, Inspired. (01/03/2008)

Next, she sang two songs from musical theatre roles she has always wanted to play, but never has. The first was one of my favorites: "I Don't Know How to Love Him," sung by the character Mary Magdalene from Jesus Christ Superstar. Her voice was the perfect fit for that song too. Then she mentioned she always wanted to play the title role in Evita, singing "You Must Love Me," from the film adaptation.

Afterward, someone from the audience asked her to sing something from Miss Saigon. She laughed and responded, "I have to do the Disney section first," upon which the entire audience burst into cheers and applause (me included). She talked about being the singing voice for Jasmine, but lamented that she couldn't sing "A Whole New World" because she didn't have an Aladdin. (She could have asked me!) Although she did sing a few bars a capella.

Lea Salonga signed the back of the CD sleeve for me. (01/03/2008)
Lea Salonga signed the back of the CD sleeve for me. (01/03/2008)

But the highlight of her Disney section was the inspirational ballad "Reflection" from Mulan. She sang the song as it was originally written. She explained that how due to length, the song had to be shortened in the editing room. But we got to hear the full version, with all its verses and the bridge.

After the standard "Someone to Watch Over Me," she broke into one of the absolute highlights of the night: Eponine's ballad from Les Misérables, "On My Own." This brought down the house! Truly amazing. If you know the song, you know how sad it is, so to bring things back up, she sang "Taylor the Latte Boy," a cute, funny song about falling in love with a Starbucks barista.

Lea Salonga's self-titled album. (1993)
Lea Salonga's self-titled album. (1993)

But the light, funny moment didn't last. Next on her set list was her big ballad from Miss Saigon that she sings to her son, "I'd Give My Life for You". There wasn't a dry eye in the house after that. And if we weren't already crying, she next sang Fantine's big song from Les Misérables, "I Dreamed a Dream." It was paralyzingly good.

After the tearjerker section, Lea closed her set with the more uplifting "I Still Believe in Love," which blended into the inspiring "Being Alive." After that the audience was on its feet, demanding one more. For her encore, she sang "Tomorrow" from Annie, her first major musical theatre role in the Philippines. It was a great way to end the show.

Lea Salonga at Glamour Magazine's salute to the 2005 Women of the Year. (11/02/2005)
Lea Salonga at Glamour Magazine's salute to the 2005 Women of the Year. (11/02/2005)

If the night ended then, it would have been a great night. But making it even better was the fact that she was signing autographs after the show. There was a long line, but it was worth it. I didn't bring anything with me to sign, so I purchased her latest CD that I didn't already have. While she was signing it for me, I asked her if she was doing any more concerts in Southern California. Protecting her voice, she mouthed the words "I don't know." But if she does, you can count on me being there.

1 comment:

beastandbean said...

OK...wow...that set list sounds pretty impressive. I gotta say, this sounds like the first of the concerts you've been to that I would have really enjoyed! So cool!!

I love that she sang so many well known songs too. I would have been dying during that song from MISS SAIGON. Everyone I've ever played that for, men and women alike, has not been able to keep a dry eye, so I'll bet it was pretty intense live!

But the biggest question of the night is...did you get some yummy chicken adobo with Lea later on? :)