Dream Again. That was the invitation from Lea Salonga as she opened her show tonight at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. We have all been limited for the last two years in what we have been able to do, and now it is time for us all to Dream Again about what comes next. Using Ms Salonga’s own words, this concert tour is a time to enjoy the gift of music, a recognition of our collective perseverance and resilience, and a celebration of joy; joy which was clear from the moment Ms Salonga stepped onto the stage.
When I saw her first UK tour in 2019, I was surprised by the diversity of music in her show. But not this time! One of the things I love about Ms Salonga as an artist is that she is never constrained by the concept of genre. Instead, she moves naturally between musical theatre numbers, Disney favourites, and pop tracks from across the decades. And, each and every song was vocal perfection, which does make her show rather tricky to review!
With over two years to choose and curate the songs, it was clear that this was an extremely personal list of music with a lot of meaning behind it. At this stage in her career, it is inconceivable that Ms Salonga would sing anything on stage that she doesn’t want to; and so I was left with some lingering curiosity about why some of the songs made it into the show… although having said that, if she had stopped to provide an explanation for all of them, we would have been there much longer than the advertised run time of 2 hours and 10 minutes!
Despite those unanswered questions, the show was spectacular. While remaining deeply focused on the music, Ms Salonga paid tribute to the late Stephen Sondheim, to frontline workers, and of course to her own career; as well as highlighting the importance and the power of loving one another in a world where we see increasing levels of racial and gender-based discrimination, hatred and the erosion of rights.
I don’t want to spoil too much of the set list for those who have yet to see the show, but I must highlight Ms Salonga’s stunning performance of ‘Written in Stone’, which Stephen Schwartz wrote for Mulan before he left the project. I also fell in love with the beautiful arrangement by Larry Yurman of ‘Move On’ – from Sunday in the Park with George – and ‘Not While I’m Around’ – from Sweeney Todd; musical theatre royalty singing some of the most powerful lyrics written by one of musical theatre’s greatest legends was a moment not to be missed.
The band, led by musical director Gerard Salonga, who had also written some of the arrangements for the show, shone during the overture and entr’acte as they played through Ms Salonga’s most well-known music, and then humbly provided the perfect backdrop for Ms Salonga’s powerful voice, switching genres seamlessly throughout. Guitarist Chris Allard must be recognised for his accompaniment on Toxic… yes, really.
There are very few concerts I’ve seen that I would label as perfect, but this was definitely one of them. Beg, borrow or steal a ticket to one of the remaining venues… and let’s hope that Ms Salonga dreams of coming back to the UK again soon!
Lea Salonga’s concert tour continues to Brighton, London, Canterbury and Glasgow. Information and ticket links can be found at www.leasalonga.com/calendar
Reviewer: Jo Tillotson
Reviewed: 24th June 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★