Lea Salonga pays tribute to musical theater in upcoming concert

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Tony award-winning actress and singer Lea Salonga is preparing for her upcoming concert featuring songs from musical theater productions. But what is the biggest challenge of her latest show?

Salonga says that apart from the physical stamina it demands, there is something else.

"The risk about doing musical theater is if you try to do a song that another iconic performer has immortalized, you wonder — are you gonna be compared to that?" Salonga told The Source. "Are you going to invite criticism of, 'Oh well, the original was better'?"

Salonga maintains that they are not trying to outdo original stage performances. Instead, the concert is a way of recognizing and appreciating this genre of music.

"We're trying to pay homage and tribute to this very unique art form, and one that has been good to me for much of my career," Salonga explained.

"It's just us having a good time with all of this music from all these different shows, and having fun for two days and seeing some great new talent and having drinks afterward, I guess," she added.

The concert "Songs from the Stage" will be held on February 17 to 18 at the PICC Plenary Hall in the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex in Pasay.

It will be directed by Bobby Garcia and it features musical direction from renowned conductor — Salonga's brother — Gerard Salonga. Salonga's daughter Nicole Beverly Chien will also be performing.

Salonga says that all the songs will feature "music that began their lives in a musical, or music that began their lives elsewhere that ended up in a musical."

This includes pop songs that were featured in jukebox musicals such as Jersey Boys, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, and Mamma Mia!

 

Salonga made her first debut in the international stage when she bagged the lead role of Kim in the 1989 production of Miss Saigon. She also went on to play Eponine and Fantine in Les Miserables among other stage productions around the world.

Salonga said that one of the interesting aspects of "Songs from the Stage" is that they invited young people "to be a part of it."

"We invited quite a few young women in whom I think the future of musical theater is strong in their hands," she said.

She added she is looking forward to performing with her family in front of a home crowd.

The next Filipino performers

Salonga says she is doing her part in training the next generation of Filipino performers, as a way of giving back to the community that enabled her growth as an artist.

"It's paying it forward... it's the right thing to do," said Salonga. "The reason I like saying yes to [helping aspiring performers] is... I help discover new talent. I help find new people... I get to mentor people."

She has also been a coach and judge on ABS-CBN's The Voice Philippines since 2013.

Salonga blazed the trail for Filipino performers to make their breakthroughs on the international stage.

Jon Jon Briones, who had been part of the first cast of Miss Saigon with Salonga, is now making his Broadway debut with the lead role of the Engineer in the upcoming restaging of the play this year.

Taking the role of Kim is Filipina-American thespian Eva Noblezada. Another Filipina thespian, Rachelle Ann Go, is playing Gigi.

The three first performed in Miss Saigon on West End in London.

Salonga recalled how Go had first contemplated on whether or not to take the opportunity to perform abroad. Salonga said she encouraged Go to go for it, and to just "come back home and pick up where you left off" afterward. However, more opportunities opened up for Go abroad.

"If you never come home, I understand. Manila can wait," Salonga said. "It waited for me to come home, so it will wait for you."

On West End, Go also played Fantine in Les Miserables, and is expected to take on the role of Elizabeth Schuyler in Hamilton: An American Musical later this year.

"She gets more beautiful and more confident every time I see her," said Salonga. "This girl is glowing from the inside even if she's not singing or talking. This is what she's meant to do."

Working on the international stage

Salonga also recalled her own experience on the set of Miss Saigon with fourteen other Filipinos.

"It was a brand new country and a brand new culture," said Salonga. "A lot of us clung to one another. Because we were all away from home, and it was this common experience."

She added, however, that her individual experience was unique as well due to "how heavy vocally and physically the role was."

Salonga said that eventually, she was given leeway so an understudy could take her place on stage. During this free time, she went to a vocal coach who was a key influence in her current voice.

"Whoever I sang before Miss Saigon, it no longer exists," she recalled. "How I sing now is a result of her breaking my technique apart and putting it back together."

The lead role of Kim in Miss Saigon changed her life, Salonga said.

"If there's anything it did, it showed me what I was capable of doing," said Salonga. "Given the ups and downs that one goes through in doing a year-long run of a show that big... you learn about your sense of humor, resolve, determination, faith, single-minded commitment and discipline, and what you are ready to forego in order to achieve something bigger than you."