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Lea Salonga sings at Snoqualmie Casino
Lea Salonga sings at Snoqualmie Casino
by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Lea Salonga
May 4, 8 PM
Snoqualmie Casino Ballroom


Lea Salonga is one hell of an accomplished performer. Perhaps best known in the United States for her tragic portrayal of Kim in the mega-hit musical Miss Saigon, Lea's performances have extended far before and way beyond the Broadway role. Making her first appearance at the esteemed Repertory Philippines at age 7 (for a role in The King and I), her illustrious career has continued and carried her far beyond. She's continued on to the title role in Annie as well as parts in several Tennessee Williams' productions all leading up to her audition for Miss Saigon at age 19.

Making her Washington appearance at the Snoqualmie Casino on May 4, the Seattle Gay News was given the honor of interviewing this established lady of stage, screen, animation and concert venues. Despite being on Philippine time and dealing with LA jetlag, Miss Salonga was a pure delight to interview.

Eric Andrews-Katz: You career started early in the Philippines; at age 7 you were in the King and I and then onto the title role in Annie. Were you always attracted to the Broadway stage?

Lea Salonga: I guess I probably was. One of my cousins was active in the Repertory Philippines and I started auditioning; that was it. I wasn't aware that I was attracted to one type of music or performance more than any other. I just kind of fell into it and it was something that I really enjoyed.

Andrews-Katz: At 17, you auditioned for Miss Saigon with a song from the same author's Les Miserables. How did you hear of the part and what was your draw to the role of Kim?

Salonga: I actually heard about the part from the president of the Singer's Union of the Philippines. She called my mother about a brand-new West End musical, but my mom was skeptical because of [stereotypical] reputations of producers and how they take advantage of young girls. After being assured that these guys were legit, my mother gave in and I went in to audition. After being called back, and called back and called back ... I got the part.

Andrews-Katz: Despite the huge success of Miss Saigon in London, there was controversy over Jonathan Pryce's performance from the US Actor's Equity because he was a Caucasian man playing a role of Asian heritage. As a person of the Asian community, what was your opinion of the subject then, and does it differ from your opinion now?

Salonga: I think I can understand from the producers' standpoint why they wanted to hire Jonathon Pryce. He is an incredible actor and he was the more established star of the show. Given his track record, he would be the only one that could take it to Broadway. I don't think there was anyone at the time that could play the part the way he did. Now there are a lot of different actors that could play the Engineer, but there had to be the first one, and he was perfect.

Andrews-Katz: There are many similarities between the London and the Broadway casting and staging of Miss Saigon. What are some of the differences?

Salonga: I think the one big difference was the role of John. In London it was a man from Cypress who was very good, but the authors told me that the role was written for a black man. They got Hinton Battle for the Broadway run. He was more known for his singing and dancing, but this was going to be a role to showcase his singing. He is a great guy.

Andrews-Katz: I've known people who have performed in Phantom of the Opera and talk about it being the "chandelier show." After winning the Olivier Award in London, the Drama Desk, Outer Critics and the Tony Award for playing Kim in Miss Saigon, did you ever feel upstaged by the helicopter?

Salonga: No. Absolutely not! Heck no! There was a lot of hype around the helicopter because for it's time it was a big thing, but no. If the show [Miss Saigon] were originally produced today, the helicopter would probably not get a mention. Any show dealing with the Vietnam War has used a helicopter. It would be one of the iconic images of the Vietnam War.

Andrews-Katz: You were asked by Sir Cameron Macintosh to perform in the 10th anniversary concert edition of Les Miserables. Do you find any similarities between the Les Miserables character Eponine and that of Miss Saigon's Kim?

Salonga: Not necessarily. Not so much. Eponine was just a lovesick puppy teenager. Kim never was. Given Kim's circumstance [her parents being blown up and her village burned], I don't think the first thing that Kim was thinking about was love; it was pure survival. The falling in love thing just happens, it's not something anticipated. It just happens to her and Chris. That's what makes the beauty of the show.

Andrews-Katz: Your latest Broadway appearance was in Rodgers & Hammerstein's updated version of Flower Drum Song. Do you think cultural stereotypes and role barriers are changing in American theater?

Salonga: I think they actually are changing. Not at lightning speed, but it seems to be happening. In Hollywood it's happening, and there are more Asians cast in roles that could be played by other actors. It's promising and it's a sign of how society is changing. It's wonderful to see.

Andrews-Katz: Do you prefer classic musical theater to the more modern musicals?

Salonga: I have to say Rodgers & Hammerstein is far easier to sing that anything else. The classic musicals are easier on the voice than contemporary [1980s and beyond] musicals. More modern musicals are just a bitch to sing. It's hard. It's hard on both male and female voices and it's crazy. Although I created Miss Saigon, it wasn't easy either. But singing Rodgers & Hammerstein, it's incredibly easy in comparison. They wrote easy on the voice and if sung, they were fantastic.

Andrews-Katz: Since you've appeared in performances varying from Tennessee Williams to the lead in Annie, do you prefer musical theater to more dramatic roles?

Salonga: I love the musical. I just really love it. There are people who can do both [drama and musical] equally, but I love it when my character bursts out in song for no reason.

Andrews-Katz: You have won the highest award a citizen of the Philippines can be honored with: the Presidential Award of Merit. What was it like to receive the award from President Corazon Aquino?

Salonga: It was wonderful. When I got the notification that I was receiving the award from her, I thought, "This is really cool." I was 19, so that was all I could think of. My family and I were at the Palace and it was really quite the honor. Later I was honored again and I brought my daughter with us.

Andrews-Katz: Since you have performed as the singing voices for Disney's Princess Jasmine (Aladdin) and Fa Mulan (Mulan), how do you think Disney characters/songs have changed as role models for young people?

Salonga: First of all, Disney characters have definitely changed. Even now it seems to be more they are more multi-dimensional characters. It's wonderful that there are princesses of minority. It's a change from all the princesses leading up to now and it's nice to see princesses of every race/creed/color to be represented. It's good that every little girl can look up and relate to a princess without having to adapt it to her own ethnicity.

Andrews-Katz: So far you have sung performed for five Philippine presidents, three American presidents, Princess Diana of Wales, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Which performance made you more nervous and why?

Salonga: I don't know. I really don't know. When I first started performing [at age 10] for various heads of state, I kind of learned how to keep my nerves steady. Plenty of rehearsals help a lot!

Andrews-Katz: Your latest album is called Inspired. What inspires you?

Salonga: Various places. Mostly people I love. Friends and family or my work can inspire me. I draw from everywhere. I draw from a bad or good day, or if my daughter does something funky; pretty much something special that happens.

Andrews-Katz: Do you have any plans of returning to Broadway?

Salonga: No plans as of now. If there is a show that requires what I can do, that would pretty much fit my voice and what I could bring to it, I would love to return to Broadway.

Andrews-Katz: Do you prefer stage or a concert venue?

Salonga: It depends. When I'm doing a musical especially when I'm at the tail end of the run, I look forward to doing a concert. If I'm doing a concert, it's the other way around.

Andrews-Katz: You've achieved Disney voiceovers, Tony and Olivier Awards, gold records and awards for performance by several presidents. What do you plan on doing next?

Salonga: I don't know. I honestly don't know. I would like to take time off. I just finished the Asian tour of Cinderella and am not looking forward to more of eight shows a week. But eight to ten months from now, who knows? Ms. Salonga has won international acclaim in Miss Saigon, being the first Asian to play and win awards for the same role on Broadway and London's West End. The show itself set records and Lea Salonga continued to play "Kim" for the next 12 years. She was personally invited back to close the show in London and Broadway alike. Her solo albums in the Philippines have earned her several platinum ratings while accomplishing a golden record in the United States.

The Snoqualmie Casino is located at SE North Bend Way with tickets available on line or at Ticketmaster. According to the official website (www.snocasino.com) the driving directions from Seattle are to take 1-90 East to EXIT 27. Turn left (North) and follow North Bend Way around curve. Casino will be on the left.

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