LIFESTYLE | THEATRE

Lea Salonga soars high at Australian debut

Michelle Baltazar

“Finally!” was the overwhelming feeling among Lea Salonga’s Australian fan base when she performed live for the first time on Australian soil this month at the 2012 Adelaide Cabaret Festival.

Salonga’s debut performance on the continent hit Adelaide on 9 June, followed by a second show the next night, both held at 8pm at the Festival Theatre.


This was not her first invitation to the festival, but she said this was the first opportune moment when “the scheduling gods” opened up her touring itinerary.

While the festival didn’t have a ‘headline act’ as it had in previous years, she was definitely one of the largest crowd draws, performing at the largest venue, the theatre boasts a near 2,000-capacity, and performing two nights during the opening weekend.

Curators of the program, artistic director Kate Ceberano and festival producer Torben Brookman, have to be credited for this year’s strong line-up. From the cabaret comedy of UK’s Lenny Henry to Broadway star Eden Espinosa and Motown Records diva from The Supremes, Mary Wilson, any self-respecting cabaret and musical theatre fan would ultimately need to clone themselves in order to attend all the shows.

At the very least, those who didn’t know that Salonga has Olivier and Tony Awards sitting at home, can update their Facebook or Twitter pages with the knowledge that they’ve finally watched the voice, the singing voice, behind Princess Jasmine of Aladdin, and Fa Mulan of Mulan and Mulan II.

The show brochure promised an “intimate reflection of a royal musical career,” and while 90 minutes was not long enough to get to know her, she certainly shared enough personal experiences to make the venue feel more like an intimate cabaret lounge, sans smoking and cocktails.

She spoke about her family, interspersing childhood stories about traveling to auditions with her brother along with her more recent contemplations, including how she finally understood what Cameron McKintosh was saying in the song ‘I’d Give My Life For You’ after she had her daughter, Nicole.

And for someone who has traveled most of her life, Salonga also dedicated a song to the individuals that have made an impression upon her throughout her life in the song ‘For Good’. Salonga reaffirmed the sentiments when she tweeted during her visit, "Oh, this week in Adelaide has been way too much fun ... part of me will always remain here."

Conversely, Salonga’s emotional and poignant performance will remain in the hearts of the diverse audience, including critics, theatre buffs, fellow performing artists and her assorted hardcore fans. After all, the number of performing artists who could deliver a repertoire as demanding as the one she did is very small; Lea took the audience on a rollercoaster ride from Broadway to the West End and all the way to Hollywood.

Jaws dropped between audible gasps when her voice filled the Festival Theatre during her rendition of ‘Defying Gravity’, the masterpiece from 'Wicked'.

Later, the audience collectively swooned when she left the stage after her intoxicating, melancholic encore, ‘Moon River’.

Lingering images include the crowds of Filipinos who packed the theatre; the 60-piece Adelaide Art Orchestra providing the exquisitely tuned backing accompaniment; the collective laughter as she joked with the audience; the moment she said "Bless You!" a millisecond after a member of the orchestra sneezed; grown-ups morphing into kids after the first few bars of 'A Whole New World'; and the record queue of well-wishers and autograph-seekers (the line was Gate 7-deep, snaked halfway around the theatre).

In the words of the Millennial Generation, she killed it.

Before the show ended, Lea thanked Ceberano for the invitation to the festival. “I hope I can come back. This has just been wonderful.”


Words from Vanessa Scamell, conductor of the Adelaide Art Orchestra

Testament to Lea Salonga's experience and professionalism is how brief the preparation was prior to her show and yet the outcome felt the preparations had a longer leadtime.

Scamell said they only had one three-hour orchestral rehearsal and then one three-hour rehearsal on stage before the opening performance. Here, she shares with Australian Filipina, what it was like working with Lea.

I am happy to let you know it was an amazing experience. She was the ultimate professional.  Not only was she pitch perfect, she displayed an innate musicality that you can only be born with. Not only did Lea display these traits, she was calm, easy going and funny. Getting an orchestra ready in one call, having a sound check with her and then having performance later that night could prove to be an incredibly stressful experience but this was not the case.  What I also found very exciting was the level to which she then rose to in her performances. Electric.

To conduct a 60-piece orchestra with the original 'Kim'  singing her famous aria from 'Miss Saigon' was utterly thrilling. I know the orchestra loved playing for her which was evident in the sound they created. 

Photo credits: www.johnfick.com

Follow Lea Salonga on Twitter: @msleasalonga

Follow The Australian Filipina on @ausfilipina



 

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