Lea Salonga, Queen of musical theatre and the original Miss Saigon, has thrilled audiences across the country, including Manchester’s Opera House, with a delicious mix of contemporary and her favourite show songs on her eagerly awaited UK tour.
Ms Salonga opened her show with the uplifting Feeling Good, “Because I do!” she remarked, apologising for postponing the show from earlier in the year having broken a leg in a skiing accident.
With a large Filipino contingent among the audience, eager to see their most celebrated national star, Lea sang Reflections form her singing role as the lead character in the animated Disney film Mulan. Lea said she has recently seen the trailer for the new live action version and was proud of her role in the 1998 version. “To see a that character of colour has such influence…” she said. “If someone of colour can save the world, just think what I can do!”
Drops Of Jupiter was written by Train’s Patrick Monahan in memory of his mother who had passed away with cancer. Lea dedicated her performance of the song to those who had come through to the other side and those who had cared for someone who hadn’t.
The set included a song recommended to her by her brother Gerard because he thought it would suit her voice. “Who sings it?” she says she enquired. “One Direction,” came his reply. “You’re kidding! Harry Styles and I have so little in common!” Lea says she had to admit that Story Of My Life had become one of her favourite songs to sing and, I have to say, brother Gerard was spot on with his recommendation.
Lea also said that she was pleased that the tour had been rescheduled for the British summer time. “I’m pleased to be here now as it is 30 years ago this month since I first arrived here to rehearse for the role of Kim in the original West End production of Miss Saigon. I was just 18 years old.” She also said that she had not really had the life experiences for the role of a young teenage mother and had not, at that point, had a boyfriend. “Can you imagine,” she said, “my first snog was with Simon Bowman in front of 2,000 people!”
It was much later, Lea added, in 2006 when pregnant with her daughter Nicole, that she felt a little kick inside while on stage singing I’d Give My Life For You, from Miss Saigon, and only then did she fully understand the meaning of the song.
With Nicole now aged 13, Lea invited everyone with a daughter who loves the movie Frozen to purge themselves, at the top of their voices, of the song Let It Go. “It’s ok when I sing it,” she remarked, “but when it’s always on repeat… I don’t know if I’ll ever sing it again after this tour!” Cue; huge sing-a-long!
The show included a selection of musical theatre numbers: Stephen Sondheim’s Another Hundred People (from the musical Company), Unusual Way (Nine) and Burn (Hamilton) before reprising her role as Jasmine from the Disney movie Aladdin. In doing so she asked for a gentleman from the audience to join her, to sing the duet in the role of Aladdin on A Whole New World.
The show also included a delightfully restrained version of A-Ha’s Take On Me, just Lea accompanied on acoustic guitar by Chris Allard.
Lea’s main set concluded with a couple of songs from dead girl characters, roles she says she seems to attract, a mash-up of I Dreamed A Dream and On My Own (Fantine and Eponine in Les Miserables) before returning for two well deserved encores, a rousing version of This Is Me (The Greatest Showman) and a tender rendition of The Greatest Love Of All. The tour may have been postponed by a few months but was, most definitely, well worth the wait.
Lea Salonga visits York Barbican on Thursday 18 July. For more information please visit www.cuffeandtaylor.com/events/leasalonga/
Words and photography by Geoff Ford