Filipina performer Lea Salonga is candid when she talks about her role in the upcoming familyfriendly musical, Cinderella.
'It's not very different from what people know of the story,' she tells Life! when she was in town to promote the show. 'It doesn't pretend to be a radical retelling.'
But an additional scene moved the Broadway veteran performer to tears. In the musical, Cinderella sneaks back into the garden terrace after the ball to declare her love for the prince - a scene not in the original tale.
Says Salonga, 37, the original star of the 1989 musical Miss Saigon: 'After the scriptwriter explained to me that Cinderella was motivated to go back to the place where she was truly happy, I started crying. It was such a lovely scene.'
Cinderella, which costs US$1 million (S$1.5 million) to put on, plays at the Esplanade Theatre in January next year. It will go on to tour cities in China, Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand. It is staged by Broadway Asia Entertainment.
The cheerful singer-actress, who has a two-year-old daughter with her ChineseJapanese businessman husband Robert Chien, is not new to these parts.
She was in Singapore three years ago for a concert, and before that, she was the female lead in Singapore Repertory Theatre's 1999 production of the Neil Simon play, They're Playing Our Song.
A child star in her native Manila, she acted in a production of The King And I when she was seven. 'Even in kindergarten, I hosted the Christmas programmes in school. I remember feeling no anxiety or stage fright. The stage was something natural for me, and something I found myself gravitating towards.'
She got her big break when she was cast as Kim in Miss Saigon in London's West End when she was 18. The musical moved to Broadway, and her role as a hapless Vietnamese bargirl won her a Tony Award for Best Actress. Subsequently, she was featured on the cover of Time magazine.
On her breakthrough role of Kim, Salonga says: 'It's like a dream come true for many Filipino performers: to go to London and New York and show the world what you have. There was a lot of pressure and responsibility, but so many opportunities came after that role.'
She was the singing voice of Princess Jasmine for the Disney cartoon Aladdin in 1992, and of Mulan in Mulan (1998) and Mulan II (2004).
She closed the role of Kim only in 2001, 12 years after Miss Saigon's debut. Since then, she has been playing leading roles in other musicals such as Les Miserables and Flower Drum Song, and singing in solo recitals. Sporting an American accent, she talks to Life! about her childhood, her gruelling performance schedule and her daughter, Nicole Beverly.
|When: Jan 2 to 22, 8pm, with 3pm weekend matinees
Where: Esplanade Theatre
Admission: $35 - $180 from Sistic (www.sistic.com.sg, tel: 6348-5555)
1. You began performing when you were seven years old. What was your childhood like?
I had enough time playing tag and jump rope with the other children in the neighbourhood. I never felt deprived of that aspect of childhood, and I grew up pretty balanced.
2. What quirks do you have onstage?
For difficult things, like when I need to hit a high note, I trace the sign of the cross on any part of my body that my hand happens to be on, just to help me get centred.
3. What difficulties did you face during the long runs for Cinderella?
It was physically exhausting. Everytime I have a long break, my body cries foul. It makes me glad I'm not a dancer.
On stage, I go down the stairs wearing a ballgown and three-inch-high heels. There are no banisters, and the male dancers look ready to catch me when I fall. I see them and they have a look of terror on their faces!
4. What do you do to relax?
I love going to a spa and getting a nice massage. I take a break in between stints to regain my perspective on reality and to renew my desire to perform. I do a lot of bellyaching backstage, but when I get on stage, I have a great time.
5. Tell us about your daughter.
I set aside a lot of time to be Mummy. I take her to the mall, watch her on the carousel, take her to the playground. She's funny because she's very feminine. She loves tiaras and the colour pink. She's hardwired to be a princess.
6. Ever think about having another child?
Yes. After next year, my child definitely needs a brother or a sister. I'll try and, hopefully, something will connect. It's a testament to the health of women everywhere that we can still have children when we're older.
7. What are your plans next?
I'm having a series of concerts in the United States in May next year, mostly on the West Coast. I plan to take my daughter and my mum with me. I have a lot of relatives in California we can visit.
8. Complete this sentence. If I could live my life all over again...
I would not change a thing. Even if there were some bad decisions in my life, I found some good coming out of them. God gave me such a wonderful life.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 17, 2008.