When the Weekly catches up with Lea Salonga, she’s in New York enjoying the ’60s weather, working on a TV series and preparing for her upcoming Dream Again concert tour, which makes a two-night stop at Wynn’s Encore Theater. Oh, and a cyclone storm hits the city, which the imperturbable interpreter takes in stride. After all, she has a setlist to work out, a fun part of her job.
“Right now I’m trying to focus on the music and start looking at sheet music and listening to arrangements,” she says. “So it’s listening to a few things here and there and starting to get a little bit obsessed with certain songs, which is always fun. What’s New There’s a lot of stuff in the setlist.
A global career spanning over four decades would certainly generate quite a catalog. Most of her fans in the Philippines know Salonga, 51, as a child actor of the 70s. She burst onto the world stage at just 17, when she was cast as Kim in the musical Miss Saigon, having claimed the role during a worldwide search. She debuted in London’s West End to great acclaim, crossing the pond to win the Tony Award for the same role in 1991, as well as Olivier, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Theater World awards.
“By any stretch of the imagination, [the role of Kim] was going to be a huge effort for someone so young, and even though I had a lot of experience as an interpreter in the Philippines, I don’t think there was anything that could have prepared me enough that Miss Saigon was,” Salonga recalls.
Miss Saigon was followed by roles and accolades that firmly entrenched Salonga in the musical theater pantheon, including becoming the first Asian person to play Éponine in Wretched on Broadway and back as Fantine for the 2006 revival. Disney fans will recognize her as the singing voice of Princess Jasmine from Aladdin and the titular role in Mulane. In her home country, she is one of the judges of The voice. And back on Broadway, she recently starred in the 2018 revival of Once on this islandwhich won a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.
A life lived on stage is familiar to Salonga, and those who have seen her perform, whether in concert or in a musical theater role, can attest to her naturalness. This comes from his talent, of course, but also from a lot of preparation. Even then, she says, the nervousness never really goes away.
“It’s not like [performers] are afraid to be on stage, because there’s really nothing to be afraid of,” she says. “Often it’s one of the safest places for an artist – it always feels like home. But there’s a bit of nervousness. As someone who’s been doing this for a long time, I’ve been in the middle of things when they’ve gone wrong. I’ve been through a lot of that, and it’s like, ‘OK, if something goes wrong, am I quick enough to think on my feet?’ You can’t help but get stage fright because you care so much.
LEA SALONGA May 7-8, 8 p.m., $65+. Encore Theater, ticketmaster.com.
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