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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 13, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 15
Lea Salonga's enchanted life
Arts & Entertainment
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Lea Salonga's enchanted life

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

Lea Salonga in Concert
April 13
Moore Theatre


It would seem that Lea Salonga leads an enchanted life. Her career started early in the Philippines, where she made her first recording at age 10. At 17 she won the lead in the smash musical Miss Saigon, winning a Tony Award by the time she was 20. Her star has not stopped shining. She's appeared on Broadway five times and has lent her singing voice to two Disney princesses (Jasmine and Mulan). In between recording more than seven solo CDs, she has a love of playing video games and the Game of Thrones series.

In preparation for her next Seattle concert at the Moore Theatre, the Seattle Gay News spoke to this wonderfully talented diva.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?

Lea Salonga: I started listening to pop music when I was pretty young. My cousin was babysitting me when I was 3 years old, and she would bring her guitar to my mom's house and play songs. She'd play Olivia Newton John, Helen Reddy, and Maureen McGovern. I listened to ABBA and The Carpenters. My dad played musical theater songs, but I didn't get into it until I did my first show at age 7 (The King and I).

Andrews-Katz: You've graduated from playing Eponine to playing Fantine in Les Miserables. Which role presents the greater challenges and why?

Salonga: I think the bigger challenge is Fantine because you don't have the luxury of time. From the moment she appears on stage, you are pretty much steamrolled until the moment she dies. She's on stage for about 25 minutes in a three-hour production, and her story is what sets Jean Valjean off on the path he follows the rest of his life. The challenge is how to make the role significant and memorable enough to justify all of Valjean's actions. If Fantine comes off as blah, then everyone who watches comments on it.

Andrews-Katz: Your brother Gerard is often your orchestral conductor. What are the challenges of working with family?

Salonga: Actually, zero. I mean there's no kowtowing to the maestro; he's two years younger than I. We speak to each other like we speak at home. We're brother and sister, and we have the history of fighting when we were younger so there isn't any real censorship. We don't fight or bicker in front of an orchestra - that's just wrong. If I need to tell him something, it's easy because there isn't an ego to stroke. It's my brother. Other maestros I would have to be mindful to respect them or of their reputations, but with my brother I don't have to think of that at all.

Andrews-Katz: In 2010, you appeared as Grizabella in the Asia-Pacific tour of CATS. What is it about the song 'Memory' that seems to strike a chord with so many people?

Salonga: I think it's a personal experience. Everyone has their own reasons why it's so memorable, aside from the belted notes at the end. For older audiences, it may have some resonance. For Grizabella it is the last-ditch effort for her to be noticed and find redemption for any sins she might have committed against this clutch of cats. For other people, it strikes a note of finding redemption for something they wish they weren't a part of. Younger people may not find such resonance in the song except on a musical theater level.

Andrews-Katz: You sing a lot of showtunes in your concerts. What is it about this style of music that appeals to you?

Salonga: I like the storytelling aspect of it. Even if the song doesn't come from a musical or a show, there is something that tells a complete story from beginning to middle to end. It appeals because then you are able to imagine and create the story and use the melody and lyrics to propel it for you. If you've had a love affair gone wrong - and I've had my share - I remember that when singing 'Dream a Dream.' You place that experience in that type of singing and it becomes a different song for you.

Andrews-Katz: On your CD Inspired, you've said your favorite song is 'Two Words.' Do you have a favorite from your new CD, The Journey So Far?

Salonga: I don't know if there is a favorite from that one. There is a lot of stuff that I have pretty much sung through my career. If I had to pick one, I'd pick 'Too Much for One Heart.' It was a song cut from Miss Saigon and revised into the duet 'Please.' It was totally the correct decision (although it took away one of my solos). I love the duet but I think there might be a hint of regret for the lyricist Herbert Kretzmer. He'd say, 'I have to write another ballad?' I can kind of understand that position, though.

Andrews-Katz: Rumor has it that you are going to be starring in a world premiere of a new American musical this year. What advance information can you give your fans?

Salonga: It's true. Most of the information can be found on the website [www.allegiancemusical.com]. The story centers on the American Japanese internment during World War II. Japanese-American families were placed in camps because of the Pearl Harbor attacks. Every person of Japanese decent in the U.S. then became suspect of being a spy or a sympathizer during the war. It sounds familiar with the post-9-11 treatment of Muslim Americans. If you think about it rationally, it's ridiculous. History actually repeats itself!

Andrews-Katz: You've made the news taking a stand on the Reproductive Health Bill. How do you react when religious advocates say they are going to avoid your concerts because of your beliefs?

Salonga: They can if they want to, that's fine. The Philippines isn't composed all of Catholics. I was born and raised a Catholic, but I have to take a stand on those directly impacted by this. My stand is, we are all appointed by God as stewards of the Earth. To deplete the resources by how many children each family can have is just morally wrong. For me, I believe every family has the right to choose their family size, and the way they can control that. I will practice according to my religious beliefs, but the Philippines aren't all composed of Catholics who feel that way. There are Christians of all kinds. There are also Muslims and Buddhists, and those who don't practice any religious path. If you don't want to use contraception that's your right and choice, but who am I to take away that right from someone else who believes that that's right for them? I'm not for abortion, but if two people decide to have sex, everyone should be responsible and they should know the [possible] consequences of their actions. If you have sex without contraception, you have to pay the piper and own up to the responsibilities.



Andrews-Katz: When singing for your own enjoyment, is there a particular style of music or a particular composer you prefer?

Salonga: No. As in, no, I enjoy whatever. I will sing with Bruno Mars, Christina Aguilera, or Whitney Houston. I will sing things that I can't sing in public. I'll perform whatever in the car or the shower, and in some ways doing so helps me when I sing the stuff I normally sing. I don't discriminate when it comes to singing for my pleasure.

Andrews-Katz: You played the Witch in Into the Woods. What is it about Sondheim's music that people love?

Salonga: It's a challenge to sing, first of all. No, it's not a challenge to sing, it's a challenge to learn. Once you learn the pacing and you get the patter into your head, you can't get it out. It's kind of unforgettable. As I get older, I enjoy Into the Woods and A Little Night Music more. I enjoy watching what's going on the stage, and enjoy the songs in their context. It's crazy, amazing, and beautiful.

Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role - regardless of gender - what role would it be and why?

Salonga: Oh crud, that's hard. I don't know. I think it would have to be Javert [Les Miserables]. It's easy to play the good guy, Valjean, everyone roots for you. Vocally, it's hell, but everyone will already side with you when you win. For every antagonist, there's a protagonist. How do you play the man who only wants to follow the letter of the law? The challenge is how do you get people to also sympathize with this character, not necessarily to like him but to understand his position. Plus playing the bad guy is more interesting and delicious. The Engineer [Miss Saigon] or the Witch [Into the Woods]. It's the people you don't want to root for that you have to make audiences like.

Andrews-Katz: Do you mind being called a Gay icon?

Salonga: No! Why would I mind that? What is there to mind about that?

Lea Salonga has been called a quadruple threat: she's won the Olivier, Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Awards. She can be heard on over 15 CDs and has appeared in over 15 films. Salonga's updates and concert schedules can be found at her website, www.leasalonga.com.

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