Musical theatre royalty, the original Miss Saigon and two-time Disney Princess, Lea Salonga is coming to Cardiff’s St David’s Hall in 2022 with her brand-new tour Dream Again.
The Philippines- born star claimed her theatrical crown aged just 18 when she created the role of Kim in the epic musical Miss Saigon in the West End and subsequently on Broadway. She then went on to be the first actress of Asian descent to play both Eponine and Fantine in Les Misérables on Broadway.
The Dream Again tour (which sees Lea joined for the first time on stage in the UK by her brother, conductor and orchestrator Gerard Salonga) will also celebrate the 30th anniversary of Lea recording the iconic Disney love song A Whole New World as Princess Jasmine in Aladdin in 1992. Younger fans will also recognise Lea’s pitch perfect tones as the singing voice of Fa Mulan in Mulan and Mulan II – these three films earning her the official title of Disney Legend.
Here Lea chats to Andy Howells about the tour and her career.
Are you looking forward to returning the UK with the Dream Again tour?
It’s been three years! I am really looking forward to coming back and I get to take my brother with me this time as musical director. He’s really looking forward to it. Not just performing and touring, but also just to be able to say, “Oh my gosh! I just music directed in the UK.”
He has good friends that work in London orchestras. So, I think he is looking forward to seeing and spending time with them. He hasn’t seen them in years. I think it’s going to be a very touching reunion for them, so I’m glad that I’m able to take him along as well as have him work with me on this.
Is it a case of big sister taking her younger brother under her wing a bit?
Kind of. I take being his older sister very seriously. I think my parents instilled a great sense of responsibility, so he calls me “the third parent” (his words not mine) (laughs) because of how serious I was as far as being a role model or older sister or older sibling. it was a responsibility that I really took to heart and it’s one that has remained. I’m 51 and he’s 48, we have a shorthand when communicating. He communicates with me in a way that he doesn’t use with other artists. He is much nicer when he talks to other artists (laughs). With me, he’s just direct, he doesn’t have to spare my feelings or be nice, you know “It’s like I grew up with you!” I can just be real. (laughs)
I had to stand in for somebody who had fallen ill and he as a musical director just looked at me and said, “Can you do it?” I’m like “Yeah!” and that was it – that was the whole conversation! (Laughs)
What can we expect from the Dream Again shows?
A lot of different songs and just expect to have fun. This is a post pandemic tour, following this big time-period of being shut in and now we’re going to get to travel, see people, do normal things like perform in front of an actual audience. We’ve just put together all kinds of stuff that we wanted to do. Never mind what anybody else thinks, we just wanted to do something fun.
How did you cope with the pandemic?
I was in the Philippines and Gerard, my brother, was in Malaysia. In Manilla we had quite a strict lockdown quarantine situation. I basically saw nothing but the inside of my house for over a year and I didn’t really go out unless I had a doctor’s appointment. Even then, I was so paranoid I might catch it because I wasn’t vaccinated at the time. I was then vaccinated, then fully vaccinated and by mid-August, I was free and clear to do whatever I wanted.
In September, I ended up flying to New York. I’m currently filming a series for HBO Max called Pretty Little Liars which is a reboot of the series that was on television a few years ago. There is a new generation of liars. We get to learn their secrets and the secrets their mothers are holding. It’s pretty damning and terrible!
It’s a different world from musical theatre for you though, isn’t it?
Kind of! There are so many musical theatre people that they hired for Pretty Little Liars. People know what my resume is. There are people in this show who have legit musical theatre credits and have done Broadway shows and toured with productions. So, people break out into song regularly. I do with one of the other moms, Zakiya Young. We pepper the conversation with singing a lot! It’s so great!
How did you get into the world of musical theatre?
I really didn’t know what it was. I was aware of The Sound of Music, I don’t know that I had seen the movie, but I knew the music. I think we had a cassette at home that probably got pretty worn out. It was all about the kids for me, Do-Re-Mi was my first audition song for the first musical I ever got to do which was The King and I. I was six at that audition and turned 7 in rehearsal, so that’s how I got into musical theatre, and I just kept doing it. I can’t really say that I’m still doing it, because the last musical I did before the pandemic was Sweeney Todd in 2019 in Manila and Singapore.
You obviously went on to do some iconic roles including Miss Saigon and Les Miserables, of which actors have followed you since. Did you realise you were setting a template for something special at the time?
When we were in rehearsals for Miss Saigon and its the original company of a show you don’t really go in thinking that it’s going to be a success because you don’t know. All you can do is hope for the best. There was a high level of expectation and anticipation that the show was going to be wonderful. I remember the reviews on opening night were mixed. There were people that loved it, there were people that hated it, there were people that really didn’t know what to think of it. It was a hit for more than 10 years and obviously it was hitting something in people that resonated. People would come literally hundreds of times to see the show, follow characters and love the music. We got to meet these two older women who just watched the show every Wednesday matinee, it was like a pilgrimage for them, and they just loved the show and the actors.
To answer your question about being a template or knowing that I was part of something special I think I was giddiest when I got to do Le Mis for the first time in New York and then to do it again in London. I first saw it at the Palace Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, so to get to do it there really blew my mind. It was pretty darn special!
Of course, you’ve gained another form of longevity with your vocal contributions to Disney films Aladdin and Mulan, gaining new generations of fans all the time!
I don’t know how many generations of young people fall in love with Aladdin. I mean that movie came out for Thanksgiving of 1992. it was just such a phenomenon. There have been so many generations that have been touched by this musical. it’s a proper musical. I’ve seen the Broadway show quite a few times and I always cry when A Whole New World is playing.
You’re not going to cry when you’re performing these songs are you?
No, of course not! I can’t, because if I start crying, my throat will get tight and I won’t be able to sing, so, I’ve got to keep my emotions under control!
Is that difficult? Because these songs probably do carry a lot of emotion for you?
Here’s the thing, my job is not to cry, it’s to make an audience cry! So, if I’m the one feeling all the emotions, the audience doesn’t. If it’s me that stays in control, tells the story and then usually the audience fills in the rest of it. They feel the emotion based on their own life experience. You tell the story, and the audience will be affected.
With tears of joy?
- Lea Salonga will perform her Dream Again tour at St David’s Hall on June 21.
- Tickets are available from http://www.cuffeandtaylor.com