Lea: 40 years of entertaining — and winning

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RAYMUND ISAAC

AWARD-WINNING singer and actress Lea Salonga (real name: Maria Lea Carmen I. Salonga) is celebrating the 40th anniversary of her career with a two-night, sold-out concert at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) Plenary hall on Oct. 19 and 20.

“[My actual anniversary] I spent with friends playing a goddess. And now many, many months later I’ll get to properly celebrate with my brother at the baton and some special guests and, of course, my mom will be crying.” said Ms. Salonga during a concert’s press conference on Sept. 25 at the Peninsula Manila hotel in Makati.

Ms. Salonga recently concluded her run as the goddess Erzulie in the Broadway revival of Lynn Ahrens’ Once On This Island. The musical won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.

Ms. Salonga’s anniversary concert will see her sing songs that defined her career, including her breakout role as Kim in Schonberg and Boublil’s Miss Saigon at the tender age of 18.

She played Kim in both the West End and Broadway iterations, and won the Laurence Olivier award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical in 1990 for the West End production and a Tony Award for Lead Actress in a Musical in 1991.

She was the first woman of Asian descent to win the award.




She also won similar awards at the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Theater World awards for the role.

After her stint as Kim, she played the role of Éponine in the 1993 Broadway production of Schonberg and Boublil’s Les Miserables, a role she reprised in the musical’s 10th anniversary. She also played Fantine in the musical’s 25th anniversary concert.

She was the first woman of Asian descent to have played both roles.

She was also the singing voice for two Disney princesses — Jasmine in 1992’s Aladdin and the titular character of Mulan in 1998. She was named a Disney Legend in 2011.

But her career started long before Miss Saigon.

At the tender age of seven, she stepped foot onstage as one of the many children in the musical The King and I, presented by Repertory Philippines. She made such an impression, that she was given the starring role in Rep’s Annie in 1980, then went on to spend the rest of the decade acting onstage in such productions as Paper Moon, The Fantasticks, and The Goodbye Girl.

She received Aliw Awards for best child performer in 1980, 1981, and 1982.

Her career in the Philippines included stints on television, notably in the teen variety show That’s Entertainment, and on film. She starred alongside Aga Muhlach in the 1995 hit film Sana Maulit Muli. The role earned her a Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences nomination for Best Actress.

Ms. Salonga was awarded the Order of Lakandula with the rank of Commander — an order of political and civic merit and one of the highest honors given by the Republic of the Philippines — in 2007 for her “outstanding dedication in fostering mutual understanding, cultural exchange, justice and dignified relations among persons and nations,” the citation reads.

“It’s a milestone anniversary. Not many people get to celebrate 40 years in this business and be able to fully perform at the level that I’m currently performing,” Ms. Salonga said in a press release.

The concert will be directed by her longtime collaborator, Bobby Garcia, with musical direction by her brother, Gerard Salonga, featuring the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra.

Aside from the concert, Ms. Salonga is also celebrating her 40th anniversary with a role in Diane Paragas’ film Yellow Rose. She shares the screen with Eve Noblezada, who played Kim in the 2014 West End and 2017 Broadway revivals of Miss Saigon. — ZB Chua