Singer, actress, and Broadway icon, Lea Salonga, known across the world for her powerful voice, perfect pitch, her Tony Award winning role in Miss Saigon and her critically acclaimed role as ‘Eponine’ in Les Misérables and ‘Fantine’ in the show’s revival in 2006, has announced the Lea Salonga: The Human Heart Tour. She will be in Chicago at the Copernicus Center (5216 W Lawrence Ave) on May 10th, 2019.
When I first heard the title of Ms. Salonga’s tour, what came to mind was one word: enduring. With a long standing career that is ever expanding, Salonga has paved her way in theater and other media avenues by promoting a positive message of inclusion and great storytelling. The performance sounds to be a night full of great music and incredible company - a perfect time to leave your worries at the door. In my recent chat, Salonga discusses finding your spark, following your path, the importance of advocacy, and the virtue of patience - far easier said than done.
Having just finished her role as the goddess of love ‘Erzulie’ in the Broadway revival of Once On This Island, which won the 2018 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, Salonga is on tour this spring nation wide before embarking across to the UK this summer, rescheduled from earlier this year due to a skiing accident, which she is almost fully recovered.
Her long standing career has made her a household name and theater legend. Most of us have already heard Salonga’s incredible talent as the singing voice of Princess Jasmine from Aladdin and Fa Mulan for Mulan and Mulan II. Yes, you read this correctly. She’s a princess. For her portrayal of the beloved princesses, the Walt Disney Company bestowed upon her the honor of “Disney Legend” in August of 2011.
So, where did her journey begin? How did this young woman find herself on the path to broadway stardom and Disney princess? When posed with this question, Ms. Salonga shared a touching story in regards to finding your spark. It happened while she attended church with her mother in London during the run of Miss Saigon.
“It was exactly what I needed to hear at exactly the right time. I was in a state of indecision, where I was and what I wanted to do with my life. All this being in a hit show, being the lead in a hit show on the West End . What am I going to do after this? Am I going to continue? My life ambitions had nothing to do with that world at that time. When the priest said “use the gifts god gave you” my mom and I looked at each other and we were like alright I guess this is it. Just to keep focusing on what this is and it’s gone great so far. The real big decision came at that point. When I realized despite all this hard work and despite all the pains and sacrifice it was still what I wanted to do with my life that maybe this is going to be it.”
She describes a moment that seemed to be something mimicking the stars aligning. Some bigger force at work that reassured her and her mother that this is the path she was destined for. These moments of calling are the ones that demand pursuit. It takes courage and bravery to answer the call and say yes to the path destined for us despite the obstacles and struggles. Thank goodness the Salonga women answered that call!
Salonga’s impact upon the theatrical world has been groundbreaking. Having won the Tony award in 1991 for her lead role as Kim in Miss Saigon, she is the first female of Asian descent to win the award just a few years after the emergence of M. Butterfly’s 1988 wins. She was only 20 years old and shared that it didn’t fully sink in the significance of the win until a bit later. “I was raised with the mentality “if you have the talent, put in the hard work, and if you really did a great job, you will get recognized for it regardless your ethnic background was,” she explains. “The older I get - I see the realities of the world - it doesn’t always work that way especially for women and women of color, who are working probably twice as hard as everyone else for that tiny chunk of recognition. And i know what it’s like to be told ‘oh yeah you can’t audition for that’ - even after the Tony Awards.” Shocking, I know! Thankfully the world is slowly changing to be more inclusive, yet Salonga’s journey continued to break barriers with her cast in the epic Les Misérables on Broadway. Named the first Asian to play the unrequited Eponine, it was her first job after Miss Saigon. “I’m glad that then next job I got was playing Eponine [because] then there were young girls of color who looked at me and thought ‘oh my gosh’ there’s someone that looks like me doing that. So for me, the stakes were really high getting that job. It really meant a lot to do that role.” She returned to the beloved show as Fantine in the 2006 revival. Among other performances, Salonga is not shy to being apart of major projects that have a lot of weight attached to them. She also starred as Kei Kimura in 2015 for legendary actor George Takei’s Allegiance, the story of a Japanese American family forced into an internment camp during World War II. Ms. Salonga’s involvement with such strong stories makes her journey that much more impressive. It’s easy to find talent, but to find talent being used in such powerful ways to connect deeply with audiences and share important stories of family, minorities, hardships, but also of hope and love. It is no wonder that in addition to the Tony, she has won the Olivier, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Theatre World Awards, in the field of musical theatre.
Through her experiences with wins and losses, acceptance and prejudice, Salonga maintains a hope and optimism for not only the arts community, but the global community. With such accolades as she has garnered, Salonga emphasized, “I don’t mind the spotlight if it means more opportunity for people that look like me. If it means more representation then the effort is absolutely worth it.” Over the last ten years we have seen an enormous jump in diversity on broadway stages and across the board in the art world, but there is still work to be done. “It’s really great to say i’m apart of this generation that can do that and so you from the next generation can build upon it and not drop the ball and keep going.” It means that she paved the way for many in the industry without perhaps realizing it back then. It is good to hear someone speak of the past achievements and our changing world with such warmth and honesty. As an avid representative for her own and underrepresented cultures, Salonga has also released albums of traditional Filipino songs. She has also sold a staggering 19 million albums worldwide to date making her one of the best-selling Filipina artists of all time. Her album “Bahaghari” serves as a reflection of all the intricate and different languages found in the Philippines and aims to help preserve the island nation’s dynamic culture.
She is also a judge on the Philippines hit version of The Voice and just finished a season on The Voice Kids. Being someone of such influence, I can only imagine how often she gets asked for advice and I obviously couldn’t resist asking what advice she had for a creative person struggling to find their footing within the arts community. She gave insight on her perspective with the trouble many young people face is they seem to be raised in this era of instant gratification. They are at loss of understanding that things take time and sometimes that can be struggling.
“For any artist, put in the time, put in the effort, learn from your teachers, there has to be patience - it really is a virtue. You really have to understanding it will take time to develop a skill and you have to give yourself and your body the time to do it.”
The spotlight has been on her since her Tony win and her incredible projects since have just catapulted her into a whole new world, but her work ethic is one we should all aspire to. She relishes in continuing her passion for her art and passing on the torch to others inspiring to carve their own path artistically. Needless to say, sharing our passions with others is what makes the arts so impactful. Listening to your heart mindfully will lead to great things. It is evident through Salonga’s journey and her talent speaks for itself. Her evening performance May 10th in Chicago will surely be an evening to remember.
See her perform at the Copernicus Center (5216 W Lawrence Ave) in Chicago, IL on May 10th, 2019. Tickets are on sale now. For more information and tickets, please visit https://leasalonga.com/
April 5, 2019 Costa Mesa, CA Segerstrom Center for the Arts
April 6, 2019 Cabazon, CA Morongo Casino Resort
April 7, 2019 San Diego, CA Jacobs Music Center
April 9, 2019 Albuquerque, NM Popejoy Hall
April 12, 2019 Brooks, CA Cache Creek Casino Resort
April 13, 2019 Brooks, CA Cache Creek Casino Resort
April 15, 2019 Federal Way, WA Federal Way Performing Arts & Events Center
April 17, 2019 Calgary, Canada Arts Commons, Jack Singer Concert Hall
April 18, 2019 Winnipeg, Canada Club Regent Event Centre
April 23, 2019 Sarasota, FL Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
April 26, 2019 Athens, GA Hugh Hodgson Concert Hall
April 28, 2019 Toledo, OH Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle
April 29, 2019 Mansfield, OH The Renaissance Theater
May, 1, 2019 Columbus, IN Cabaret at the Commons
May 3, 2019 Fort Wayne, IN Embassy Theater
May 4, 2019 Indianapolis, IN The Cabaret
May 5, 2019 Indianapolis, IN The Cabaret
May 10, 2019 Chicago, IL Copernicus Center
May 12, 2019 Ridgefield, CT Ridgefield Playhouse
May 13, 2019 New York, NY Sony Hall
May 15, 2019 New York, NY Sony Hall
May 17, 2019 Scottsdale, AZ Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
May 18, 2019 Lone Tree, CO Lone Tree Arts Center
May 22, 2019 Northridge, CA The Soraya
May 25, 2019 Richmond, BC River Rock Casino Resort
In addition to her North American dates, Salonga will be making several international stops.
July 7, 2019 Cardiff, UK Wales Millennium Centre
July 10, 2019 Notthingham, UK Notthingham Royal Concert Hall
July 11, 2019 Birmingham, UK Symphony Hall
July 13, 2019 Manchester, UK Bridgewater Hall
July 18, 2019 York, UK Barbican Centre
July 21, 2019 London, UK London Palladium
Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with dual degrees in English and Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!