Theatre / Interview

Interview: We chat to Lea Salonga ahead of UK shows

The stage superstar talks about the UK, musical theatre and her new 2019 tour dates.

West End and Broadway legend Lea Salonga is heading to the UK for a string of shows in July, including two stops at the London Palladium.

Best known for her Tony Award winning role in Miss Saigon, her powerful and pitch perfect voice has made her a well-known name in Theatreland.

In 1989, Salonga was selected to play Kim in the debut production of Miss Saigon in London. Her performance saw her take home the 1990 Olivier Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical.

When Miss Saigon opened on Broadway in 1991, she again played the role of Kim, winning the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Theatre World Awards and becoming the first woman of Asian descent to win a Tony Award.

 

As well as Miss Saigon, she also was the first person of Asian heritage to play Eponine in the musical Les Misérables on Broadway. In 2006, she returned to the show’s revival this time as Fantine.

She has also achieved the honour of Disney Legend for her work as not one, but two Disney princesses – Princess Jasmine in Aladdin and Fa Mulan in both Mulan films.

We caught up with Salonga to find out more about her experience gracing both the West End and Broadway stage and what to expect from this next run of UK shows.

Read our interview below.


What can fans expect from your upcoming UK shows?

Fans can expect a lot of musical theatre music, and a little bit of Disney. I like that the way my shows go is that people always leave having a good time. At the end of the day, I want people to have fun.

What are you most looking forward to coming to the UK?

Beside the shows, I’m hoping to be able to see a couple of West End shows as well. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there’s something running in the UK that I’ll be able to see and really enjoy that’s just exclusively in the West End.

It’s been five years since you last performed in the UK for the Miss Saigon 25th Anniversary gala. What do you still remember from that visit to our shores?

I managed to catch Here Lies Love which was running at the National Theatre at the time. I remember going to the green room with a couple of my friends from the show after the performance and I got to meet a few members of that company. Also, at the time she hadn’t won her Tony yet, she hadn’t got to Broadway yet, but Cynthia Erivo happened to also be in the green room and I got to meet her.

It was just cool – I remember being in the National Theatre’s green room and thinking this is the coolest bar ever. Everyone from all over the West End, before heading home, came to have a drink and congregate with people from other shows. I was able to enjoy that atmosphere for just one night, and it was lovely. So that is one thing that I absolutely remember from that trip.

You’ve played some huge roles, including Eponine in Les Miserables and voicing two Disney princesses – are there any roles you’d still love to play?

I’m finding myself getting more and more attracted to Stephen Sonhiem’s work. When I was a very young adult, I didn’t quite understand it. I remember seeing A Little Light Music in London, and I think I also saw Into the Woods. I think Julien McKenzie was playing the witch. And although I knew I was enjoying the performances, I did not have the capability to dig deeper into the material to find out what the hidden meanings were of so many of the stuff that he was writing. But the older I am getting, the more lives that I’m living, his stuff is resonating and some of the lyrics make so much sense. So I think as I’m becoming an older adult, it’s that material that I’m going to find myself gravitating towards, and it’s incredible.

You’ve just finished starring in Once On This Island on Broadway, how was it getting back to the stage?

When you have things like Hamilton, Mean Girls, Dear Even Hansen and Come From Away, our show, which was a revival, needed to be relevant and topical and speak to the audiences today. We could not be a piece that was stuck in the 1990s, when it was originally produced on Broadway. It needed to actually be relevant.

Because it was staged following so many natural disasters and hurricanes, it was the perfect show and the perfect opportunity to show an audience that there is a way forward even after devastation, even after destruction, even in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Moving forward isn’t just brick and mortar rebuilding, it’s about spiritual rebuilding as well, which was ultimately what the show was about.

We wanted tell the audiences that came to what we call the sandboxes every night, a story about this young women and how she was elevated into a status of the gods because of what she had been through in her life. It’s a tale that is kind of like a tale you would tell young children about, The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast, and that yeah, sometimes, life sucks, but life goes on and it does get better and we tell the story to inspire one another as well as the audiences that come to see the show.

What’s changed about Broadway in your time away, do you think?

I think the thing that may have changed about Broadway is that the shows are much more acceptable. They speak to all audiences, they no longer speak to just one particular age group. There are a lot of younger people coming to Broadway now, a lot of high schoolers and kids, and there are a lot of musicals that speak to them with the actual issues that they are facing. Sometimes those issues aren’t pretty but they’re placed on the stage and in that way, the kids that come to the show don’t feel so alone.

What are your favourite songs to perform live on stage?

I don’t think there’s a favourite. Once I start getting my teeth into the material I have to learn, whether for a musical or for a concert, every song becomes my favourite. It’s a really safe answer to give, but it’s a real answer. It’s not that I don’t want to offend anybody, every song has its own little complicated thing about it that makes it so attractive to perform.

Sometimes there’s a musical line that I’m totally into, or there’s a lyric that I can latch onto and be excited about having to say every night. There’s an emotional through-line that kind of excites and terrifies me. When I know that a really difficult part of that song is coming I get a little bit inside my head and ask myself “am I going to be able to get through this?”, because it’s emotional difficult. If I’m singing a song about a break-up, or about a relationship that just went south, or if I’m speaking about falling in love for the first time, there’s always some story to tell.

So when I’m doing a series of concerts, for every song there’s something exciting about it and so I look forward to every song I sing. I don’t think of it as: “Oh god, here comes this song.” I can’t include songs like that in my repertoire. Thankfully there really aren’t songs like that. I genuinely enjoy the songs that I get to sing.

After the UK shows, what’s next for Lea Salonga?

I go back to the Philippines for a few weeks, wait for my daughter to finish school and then I get on a plane and tour the US for a couple of months. I’m going to be quite busy after the four shows in the UK.


Lea Salonga’s full UK tour dates are:

7 July 2019 – Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
10 July 2019 – Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
11 July 2019 – Symphony Hall, Birmingham
13 July 2019 – Opera House, Manchester
18 July 2019 – Barbican, York
21 July 2019 – The Palladium, London (matinee)
21 July 2019 – The Palladium, London

Tickets for Lea Salonga’s shows in Cardiff, Nottingham, Birmingham, Manchester, York and London are available now via Ticketmaster.co.uk.

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