Review: Lea Salonga

Origingally reviewed for GaySocialites.com.

I first saw Lea Salonga in the Broadway “revisal” of Flower Drum Song, which gave her some great acting opportunities but gave a lot of the best songs to other performers — though Salonga did turn it out on “A Hundred Thousand Miracles” and “Love, Look Away”. And of course I knew her voice from Princess Jasmine’s limited singing in the Disney animated film Aladdin (Linda Larkin did the lines for Jasmine in that film). I have to admit that I haven’t yet seen Mulan, where Salonga had more to sing.

So I knew this woman could sing, but that’s about all I knew — truth be told, I heard her sing more in her New York cabaret debut at Café Carlyle than I had heard her sing before. And I was suitably impressed! Salonga is a big star in her native Philippines, where she lives now, and her full-throated yet emotionally subtle singing style is surely the reason.

Her Carlyle act is best when Salonga tells her unique story, the path she took in transforming her success in Filipino musical theatre into international stardom as Kim in Miss Saigon on the West End and then Broadway. Included along the way are traditional Filipino songs like “Salamat, Salamat Musica” and “Waray Waray” (the latter, Salonga notes, was sung on the Carlyle stage by Eartha Kitt), as well as “Too Much for One Heart”, a lovely ballad cut from Saigon, and “Reflection”, a big number from Mulan.

She even does a goofy version of “A Whole New World” in which the band members sing Aladdin’s part, comically pointing up how he keeps interrupting Jasmine throughout the song. Salonga dips into the Great American Songbook a couple of times, with Rodgers & Hart’s “My Romance” and the Gershwins’ “Someone to Watch Over Me”. She has a knack for going to the heart of these songs — I personally would have liked more along these lines. Not the greatest cabaret act ever, but an entertaining way to frame Salonga’s undeniably gorgeous voice.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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