by by Gale Gatchalian/AJPress
Something beautiful lit up the glorious stage of the Walt Disney Concert Hall last Friday night. Kicking off a series of new shows called ‘Global Pop at the Music Center’, Lea Salonga, the multi-award winning Broadway star now with a platinum album under her belt, truly lived up to the concert’s tagline: isang gabi, isang bituin.
Leaders from the sponsoring Blue Ribbon group welcomed the excited guests. Blue Ribbon is a support group of women leaders who serve the Music Center, its resident companies and its art education programs.
A landmark event, Lea is the first solo Filipino performer to grace the stage of the esteemed Disney Concert Hall. No other honor is worthy of the artist who displays the Olivier, Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics, Ovation and Theater World Awards on her mantle. The love for her in that room was palpable, and not just because of the dominant Filipino contingent that came out to support her. She was able to use her utter talent to draw the audience closer to her and make them feel open to the deep emotion she infuses in every song. Plus, she was just downright cute. Years of experience have made her a flawless performer, slipping jokes and fun silliness in between her songs.
Her powerful opening could leave no doubt in anyone’s mind: Lea’s voice is a finely tuned instrument the years have only served to perfect. Its character changes with every song, reverberating, caressing or teasing the listeners accordingly. Her role as the singing voice in two Disney movies, Aladdin and Mulan, made this night a sweet homecoming of sorts as she performed select songs from the multitude of projects she has been involved with, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, her upcoming role in Cinderella and of course a smattering of her OPM hits, among others.
While each number was riveting to be sure, impressing long-time fans and making new ones, several stood out as truly remarkable.
I Dreamed a Dream
from Les Miserables was a veritable showcase on its own, demonstrating her pin-point control and vast range.
The rearranged Bakit Labis Kitang Mahal was the first of her Filipino songs, an updated version that sizzled with a little more pop but still had the crowd singing like it topped the charts only yesterday.
Honoring her fellow countrymen who, she said, she would be nothing without, Lea offered Ha-hanapin Ko to “all those away from home who kept a pearl of the old country in their hearts”, over time and across the miles.
Dedicated to her mother (who unfortunately was stuck with babysitting duty that night), Lea rendered The Way You Look Tonight with a cool, jazzy feel that made one feel warm inside.
Lea revealed that in many of her past roles, she couldn’t quite get the feel of what the lyrics were saying. The recent onset of motherhood however, has self-confessedly brought her closer to the words she sings. She was able to animate the unconditional love felt by mothers in a sonorous ephemeral moment. The gravity of emotion weighed down on the hall as she went a cappella for I Give My Life for You from Miss Saigon.
A surprise to even Lea herself, Cliff, an American who volunteered to duet with her for A Whole New World proved a worthy Aladdin, reversing all expectations one would have for audience participation numbers. Generous in her praise, Lea revealed that she had “dreamed about this moment at least three times”, reinforcing the much deserved standing ovation Cliff received.
Reminiscent of Julie Andrews, There’s Music in You provided a sneak peek for her upcoming role in a Broadway Asia Entertainment international tour of Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. This song, along with Everybody Says Don’t and John Lennon’s Imagine uplifted the audience with its purposefully motivational and inspirational tone.
Her double encore, composed of Annie’s The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow and Someone’s Waiting For you embodied the brightness she brought to life in this fantastic show that left nothing to be desired.
The rest of the performance included: Sana Maulit Muli, a tribute to Starbucks baristas,Taylor, the Latte Boy, the full version of Reflection from Mulan, the celebrated Someone to Watch Over Me and On My Own, the song that got her the job as Éponine in Les Miserables and became her audition piece for Miss Saigon.
The siren’s setting
The Walt Disney Concert Hall can inspire true awe in all those who see and enter it. Its outward visual grandeur belies the auditory spectacle found within its walls. The acoustics of the hall wrapped the audience with Lea’s melodious voice from all sides. Accompanied by an impressive and highly skilled orchestra of 19, the intimate, wood-paneled interiors of the Frank Gehry structure in downtown LA could only perfectly complement the historic show of that night.
Somewhere in the middle of her performance, Lea thanked the exuberant crowd, saying “you make me feel like a rockstar.” Lea, that’s because you are.