Lea Salonga performs in her first concert after giving birth in "Tomorrow: A Concert for the Future" at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Main Theater on October 20-21, 8pm. Guests include Calvin Millado, the Philippine Madrigal Singers, the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, Hail Mary the Queen Children's Choir, Kilyawan Boys' Choir, and child singer Julia Abueva. Musical director is Gerard Salonga and director is Chris Millado. Call CCP 8323704 or 8321125 loc. 1405-1406.
This is what has always struck me about Lea Salonga: her complete lack of airs. Here is arguably the Philippines' one true international superstar, a name that inspires passionate devotion among musical theater fans worldwide (just check out the customer reviews on Amazon), and she is refreshingly, bracingly ordinary. Not ordinary in the blah, bland, boring sense, but in the unfussy way she carries herself. No retinue. No bling. No grand entrances. No diva moments. Her radiance, all-natural, comes effortlessly from that self-effacement --one thing the legion of talentless celebrity whores infecting this city should learn from. Lea is not a celebrity. She is a star. The real deal.
On an afternoon when she's rushing from her "Tomorrow" concert presscon to other commitments, Lea the trouper agrees to be interviewed by the gathered journalists en masse, instead of the planned one-on-ones. She sits on a sofa and we gather around her, some on their feet, others seated beside her, me squat on the floor, inches away from the Tony winner. I know I can count on my media colleagues to ask the expected motherhood questions (I mean questions about Lea's new status as mom. What, you think I was being catty? Me?). I have other questions in mind.
You said before that your dream role on Broadway would be “Evita.” Has that changed? It’s something that I would like to do still, but you know, I won’t die if I never get to do it. And also, those notes are way too high. They’re crazy, inhuman notes! (Laughter) Now, it really doesn’t matter what role comes my way, but I would love to do another show on Broadway.
What's your favorite Broadway show right now? “Spamalot!” It’s just one of the most irreverent, incredibly funny shows I’ve seen. I thought I would pee in my pants when I saw it! (Laughter).
[Clueless about “Spamalot?” Here are the lyrics to “The Song That Goes Like This,” its centerpiece romantic duet:
Once in every show/There comes a song like this
It starts off soft and low/And ends up with a kiss
Oh where is the song/That goes like this?
Where is it? Where? Where?
A sentimental song/That casts a magic spell
They all will hum along/We'll overact like hell...
I'll sing it in your face/While we both embrace
And then we change the key!
Now we're into E!/That's awfully high for me
But as everyone can see/We should have stayed in D.]
What about “Wicked?” You sang “Defying Gravity” in your Carnegie Hall concert, right? Yes. It would really be nice to do Elphaba, but it would also be nice to do Glinda. Either role, I’d just be totally happy to do. There’s something poignant about being the one who’s pretty and that everyone thinks is shallow, but in the end, turns out she’s not.
If baby Nicole turns out to be as good as singer as you are, would you encourage her? Oh, yeah, I would! God will give her a talent of some sort, and as a parent, I have to encourage what it is. I can’t say, God gave her this but I have other plans for her, no. I have to be discerning as a parent and figure out what it is that’s special, and lead her, encourage her and push her in the direction that would help make her be the best that she can be...
Motherhood is not exactly a role, it’s my job. It’s a lifetime commitment. My singing will not last as long as my being a mom. I’ll be a mom far longer than I would be a singer.
I’ve always wanted to ask you this question. In your Broadway concert here, when you sang “Nothing” from “A Chorus Line,” you changed the word “bullshit” to “nonsense.” Why? Yeah, we did, but when I repeated the show in June, I said, you know what, just put it back in. (Laughter). In the beginning, it was just--it was going to be on TV. I wanted to make sure that networks wouldn’t go ‘whoa!’ But when I sang it in Carnegie Hall, we kept everything in, nothing was edited out.
One of your favorite singers, Barbra Streisand, is having a concert. Do you plan to catch any of her shows? (asked by Rome George of Finding Rome) Unfortunately I can’t, I’m here. But a friend of mine is actually directing her concert, and I’m getting the thrill vicariously through him… She’s an incredible, incredible singer, and an incredibly talented woman. I’m happy actually that she’s still so active and doing what she loves to do, and that people out there buy her concert tickets. That gives a lot of performers who are in their 30’s a lot of hope that, you know what, people will come see me when I’m in my 60’s.
Aside from Streisand, who else do you look up to? It’s really just her. Because it’s not just her talent, it’s how she has maneuvered her career and what she has been able to do even when others would laugh at her, like when she directed films. And it turns out they were incredible to watch and funny, and she gets nominated for Oscars. She pushes ground, and therefore a lot of women become beneficiaries because of what she does.
What’s your current state of mind? Happy, peaceful. Sometimes crazy, especially when the baby is sick and you don’t know what to do. But for the most part I’m in a very happy mood.
Last question: What’s playing on your iPod? A lot. One minute it’ll be Jamie Cullum, another minute it’ll be the Dawn, or the Apo Hiking Society tribute, or Evanescence, or baby Mozart. Things like that.