For decades now, Lea Salonga’s star power has held audiences enrapt with wonder. A cut above the rest, especially on stage, she is famed for her perfect pitch, crystal voice and powerful control. Both the seasoned fan of Broadway and the young child discovering Disney must have, at one point or another, encountered the renowned talents of this Tony-award-winning actress.
“I really love getting up in front of an audience and singing,” Salonga, cool and collected, says. “It really is my thing.” And who can dispute it? Her career, which began in the Seventies, has blossomed in fruitful progression. Since her first musical at the age of seven, the world has watched Salonga in stellar performances on stages in Manila, London and New York, winning much-coveted honours such as “Disney Legend” and Theatre World awards. Despite her success, she remains with feet firmly planted on the ground, still calling Manila home, and flying back and forth in between jobs.
In this Zoom interview, she spoke with candour. “I’m someone who enjoys isolation and being far away from everybody,” she chuckles over this self-admittance. “So, I guess I’m just naturally antisocial, I don’t know.”
Salonga, who’s been known to keep her affairs private, elaborates: “It’s good to keep a separation between my public and my private life. There have to be things about myself that the public need not see or know.” But of course, she assures us, the public is entitled to the one thing she can deliver: a fantastic performance. “Whether they’re sitting up in the balcony or down in the orchestra, they are entitled to get the best that I can give to them.”
For all intents and purposes, a fantastic performance seems to parallel good storytelling, at least in Salonga’s interpretation. “What I always try to stress is the importance of telling a good story while singing, because that’s what a song is: a good story set to a really effective melody.” And as the first Asian to play Eponine on Broadway’s rendition of Les Miserables, Salonga knows that a truly good show will leave people feeling more than just satisfied. “[I] want to be moved and feel like [I’ve] had an experience,” she says.
Glamorous though it may sound, the stage is not without its pitfalls. “I’m in an industry [wherein] it feels like it’s dominated by Caucasian people. [So] I feel like I must work twice as hard and be twice as good to gain respect, and to maintain it,” Salonga confesses, speaking of her early days on Broadway. “[There was] always this thing in the back of my mind [that] someone is out there watching to see if I’m going to fail—and I was not going to give anybody that satisfaction.”