An evening with Lea Salonga

Publicity photo of Lea Salonga
Publicity photo of Lea Salonga

Was Manilla empty last Wednesday evening, 29 June? Judging by the number of Filipinas and Filipinos who gathered at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre it could well be so! The reason for such a turn-out? The penultimate concert by Ms Lea Salonga of her recent tour of the United Kingdom.

Dream again

Under the title “Dream Again” the tour ended in Glasgow on 1 July. It was fitting that she should celebrate the ending of lock-down around the world by returning to the UK. Her career began in London as an eighteen-year-old onstage in the West End, where she created the rôle of Kim in ‘Miss Saigon’. 

To be honest, I was unaware of how she had developed over the years, even to the fact that she had voiced the parts of Princess Jasmine in Disney’s Aladdin, which I had seen, and Princess Mulan in the two eponymous films, neither of which I had seen.

Smartphones and tablets

The theatre was packed out with people, many with their phones and tablets out and operating, despite the warnings not to use them, held at every entry to the auditorium. In addition there was a steady stream of smoke from the wings, which having circled the stage found its way up into the gods, and thence, who knows? The smoke never abated throughout the show, which led me to wonder about its effect on Lea Salonga’s voice.

Before Ms Salonga appeared, her accompaniment entered and took their places on stage. This consisted of a vocal backing group of three, a small combo consisting of guitar, bass, keyboards and drums, and Lea’s little brother, Gerard, directing all from the piano. After an exciting overture, consisting of a medley of songs with which she is associated, Lea Salonga entered and took her place at the microphone, down-stage centre.

A broad selection

The first half of the set comprised a variety of songs, some of which I was familiar with, indeed were my favourites. Second up, for instance, was a wonderful cover of Dolly Parton’s ‘Here you come again’. Further down the playlist, and sung at an unbelievably slow tempo was John Lennon’s classic, ‘Imagine’.

Shine a light

During the pandemic Lea has voiced her support of all the front-line workers, and reeled off a list far beyond the health workers, police and fire-fighters to include grocers, teachers and more beside.

Rather dangerously, I thought, she called on all the front-line workers in the audience to turn on the flashlight – then she corrected herself – “the torch” on their phone or tablet, stand up and shine it at the stage. I calculate that, unsurprisingly, maybe 75% of the audience stood and shone a light.

Maturity personified

Of course, she has grown up. No longer the talented teenager of those early days in London, she has matured into a wonderfully self-possessed woman, with oodles of stage presence. And her voice has matured likewise. She demonstrated both enormous power with excellent intonation, loud, but without shouting. Then in contrast she produced soft and gentle notes full of sensitivity.

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Where was her music?

During the interval, while we all bought really great ice creams, Lea Salonga changed from black-and-white jacket and trousers into a dark teal evening gown. The second part of the evening was where she revisited many of the songs which had brought her success and fame. There were numbers from ‘Saigon’, ‘Les Mis’, the Disney animated adventures and others.

More! More!

The evening was drawing to a close. But before she finally quit the stage she invited the audience to join her in a kind of encore karaoke, as she led us on a whirlwind tour of yet other musical numbers. But at last it was all over, and full of deep musical joy we all turned and headed out of the theatre to find our way to our homes.

If Lea Salonga should grace us once more with her presence, grab a ticket. Take those whom you love most. You’ll have a fabulous evening.