Lea Salonga, who shot to fame in the original London and Broadway productions of Miss Saigon—winning Tony and Olivier Awards for her haunting, heartbreaking (and thrillingly sung) performance as the ill-fated Kim—is back on Broadway this season in the critically acclaimed revival of Once On This Island at Circle in the Square Theatre. Salonga is cast as Erzulie, Goddess of Love, and delivers the most beautiful rendition of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’ “The Human Heart” one is ever likely to hear. The stage and screen star has also just released a Filipino language album entitled Bahaghari: Lea Salonga Sings Traditional Songs of the Philippines, which preserves the many languages spoken in the Philippines. Visit leasalonga.rockpaperscissors.biz for more information.
We recently asked the Broadway favorite, whose Main Stem credits also include Les Misérables, Flower Drum Song, and Allegiance, to pen a list of her most memorable moments in her career:
Les Misérables 10th Anniversary Concert at Royal Albert Hall
Before the actual performance, I headed up to one of the higher balconies to check out the view. Someone had suggested checking it out when I could, so I did. It’s stunning, breathtaking, and gave me a great view of exactly how big of a deal this event was going to be. Sometimes, performing in theatre can make one feel like a cog without context, and as I looked down upon the stage from that high perch, context and perspective is exactly what I got. While I performed in the show, I knew exactly what was going on, as well as what my part in it would be.
The Academy Awards (1993)
Imagine looking out into the audience at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and seeing all these Hollywood stars looking up at you while you’re singing. It was one of the most fun evenings I’ve ever had, and my mom was thrilled, as she did a lot of stargazing of her own.
Miss Saigon (London, 1989)
It’s said that if you have a bad dress rehearsal, you’ll have an amazing first performance. Well, in the case of the original West End production of Miss Saigon, bad could’ve meant tragic, had it not been for a few quick bodies on that stage. The Ho Chi Minh statue rolling downstage (mind you, our stage was also raked at the maximum possible incline) nearly clipped the ankles of a few of the actors caught in between that one and a set piece already in place. For safety reasons, we canceled our first two previews in order to troubleshoot each and every set change to make sure everyone was safe.
Miss Saigon (London and Broadway)
Same exact tech boo-boo on both sides of the Atlantic. Right before the “Sun and Moon” reprise, the set piece with Kim’s Bangkok bedroom was supposed to roll on. At two performances, this set piece decided to stay put backstage, which meant my having to just walk on a bare stage and sing—far enough downstage so in case the set rolled on, I wouldn’t get clipped. Richard Maltby, Jr. pointed this out. “My goodness, it happened here, too!”
My Carnegie Hall Debut
This turned out to be my daughter Nicole’s stage debut (well, kind of). I was three months pregnant with her, and it was at this performance in November 2005 that I decided to announce her presence. Around 12 years to the date, she debuted for real in the Manila production of Matilda. Her run has just ended, and given her very emotional breakdown following her final performance, I think the theatre bug has bitten her. She’s got it bad.