PDI's Bayani San Diego had the details in today's paper, so let me just add one point. I've not heard of any previous Eponine from "Les Miz's" various productions worldwide eventually graduating from the gamine role to assume the Fantine part. If this is true, then Ms. Salonga, true to her earlier trailblazing achievement as the first Asian to play Eponine on Broadway, would be notching another first in the record books. Way to go!
Not that we have to savor this news at someone else's expense, but I can't help guessing that Ms. Salonga was asked to come in to do some major rectifying for the show. When this somewhat scaled-down "Les Miz" opened last November, the critical consensus was generally positive, except for one actress who garnered mostly vicious reviews: Daphne Rubin-Vega, the performer Ms. Salonga is replacing as Fantine.
"The breathy, little-girl voice and sultry mannerisms of Daphne Rubin-Vega (the original Mimi of 'Rent') clash with the high-impact role of Fantine, the ill-used factory-worker-turned prostitute," sniffed Ben Brantley of the New York Times. "(This is the only performance of 'Les Misérables' I’ve attended in which Fantine’s powerhouse ballad, 'I Dreamed a Dream,' didn’t stop the show.)"
Variety's David Rooney was equally dismissive: "Rubin-Vega's raspy vocals seem ill suited and too contemporary for her killer first-act number 'I Dreamed a Dream' (especially for anyone attached to Patti LuPone's full-bodied version in the original London cast recording), underselling the show's first major assault on the tear ducts."
It wasn't just the critics who disliked Ms. Rubin-Vega. Reader reviews at the NYTimes site ranged from "simply aweful" (sic) to "horrible miscasting" to "a disgrace to the show and really should be fired." ("Was the casting director high?," asked one irate theatergoer.)
No wonder Cameron Macintosh and company have to bring in greater firepower, in the form of a musical star whose voice Playbill.com's Andrew Gans has described as "beautiful, pure and often soaring...," and which, with "Miss Saigon," created "one of the great musical theatre performances of the nineties."
It's a mean thought, but do tell me if I'm overreading here. Truth is, the overall nastiness heaped on Ms. Rubin-Vega's Fantine has made me terribly curious to listen to her performance, if only to judge for myself. (Haven't found any helpful clip on YouTube, though.) Mind that she isn't a lightweight herself, having bagged Tony nominations for "Anna in the Tropics" and, more famously, "Rent," which also gave her a Drama Desk citation and a Theatre World Award for Best Actress/Musical.
Oh, well. Win some, lose some...
Ms. Salonga, to my knowledge, has never sung "I Dreamed a Dream" in any of her concerts. It has always been Eponine's "On My Own," and rightly so because it was her audition piece for "Miss Saigon." To hear her wrap her gorgeous voice around Fantine's shimmeringly melancholy ballad would be a most sublime experience. I'd kill to be at the Broadhurst this March!
NOTE: More from Bayani San Diego on how Ms. Salonga auditioned for and bagged the role, in the Sunday (Jan. 7) issue of PDI Entertainment. Watch out for it.