International musical theatre legend Lea Salonga visits the UK later this month to perform a number of concerts. Ahead of the first date in Leicester our reviewer David Clarke spoke to Lea about the tour and finds out if she is most proud of her Olivier or Tony Award.
Can I start by saying on behalf of Northwest End UK and your multitude of fans over here, a very warm welcome to the UK – or should that be welcome back to the UK, because this is not your first visit here, is it?
Yes, I have been before and that was not that long ago, it was just three years ago.
So, your first tour in the UK was 2019, was that the one that had to be rearranged because you suffered an injury?
Actually, no, it didn’t have to be rearranged because by the time I actually arrived in the UK – I had broken my leg – by the time I got to you guys I was OK, I just couldn’t wear high heels, but I could wear sneakers and I could be on stage. I could stand. It ended up being very therapeutic, both for my leg and for my well-being. So, nothing had to be rearranged. I think there were a couple of dates in Asia that had to be rearranged, cancelled or postponed, which were coming on the heels of the injury. But everything 3 months after my injury was fine. The US tour that I had to embark on was fine, it was just a couple of dates in Asia that my doctor said, “Absolutely not, you cannot travel”. I got over it pretty quickly, took about 6 months to completely heal but once I was at the 3-month mark, my doctor said, “Yeah, take it easy, do your exercises” – I did- and it was all fine. I was able to do most of the concerts in the US sitting down. By the end of it, I was able to walk, not on crutches anymore. I still had to use a very cumbersome leg brace, but if that’s all I needed to use by that point, I think it was a good thing.
Did you enjoy your first UK tour in 2019?
This was my first time to tour in the UK, not my first visit to the UK. We all had a good time and I remember that we went to this really good fish and chip shop in York.
That was where I saw you on that tour!
Plenty of chip shops in York, but one in particular that my manager found that had so many amazing reviews that we all had to take a road trip to go and check it out and it was everything the reviews said it was – I can’t remember the name of it now, but it was a really nice little shop – of course it was raining, it was just comforting to have a plate of fish and chips, it was just good. My brother will be musical directing for me, so we’ll have to take him. We’re not doing York this time, but I am sure there are plenty of places in the UK where we can get decent fish and chips!
You must have enjoyed touring in the UK last time as you have come back, do you have favourite venue here?
I don’t know that I have a particular favourite; I think I enjoyed all of the venues that I happened to be at; it was memorable to go back to the West End, so that might be the one, it is the London Palladium and it is in the West End and it is safe to say that I started my global career in the West End, so I think it felt a combination of nostalgia and so many wonderful memories. I think it’s safe to say that would be the number one.
And what about worldwide?
I just love going to places where the acoustics are spot on, then that basically gets on my list. A really great venue was Bethesda, Maryland, I think it was called the Strathmore, in the US, because I opened my mouth to sing and it was instantly incredible; the hall was really beautiful, there was so much wood so the acoustics were so alive and I was just like, OK, I’m tired, I’m sleepy, but I’m in a really good place right now because this hall is just everything, so that might be one of my favourite ones from this last leg of the tour. But I mean there are so many incredible, wonderful venues that I have got to perform at, like the Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall, places like that that are, you know, renowned and iconic, so definitely those 2.
Is there any difference in playing in a large hall, like the Royal Albert Hall or the De Montfort Hall in Leicester where you are starting your current UK tour, compared with a smaller venue like Canterbury with a capacity of just over 1000?
I don’t think so, I mean my shows are not like, I mean there are no pyrotechnics, no stadium level production, it’s very intimate in of itself, so we bring that in regardless of the size of the venues and all you’re really going to get is my voice, six musicians behind me, and, you know, some really cool lighting design and you know, the sound design as well, it’s really simple, nothing too crazy, so I don’t think the size of the venue matters as much, it’s more of, I think for me it’s being more mindful that I have to throw, well as far as my emotions go, the back of the house needs to feel it, so I need to do what I have to do so that the very last person in the very last row of the highest balcony will get a good experience as if they were sitting in the front row.
You’ve just mentioned that you have six musicians with you, are these the same musicians throughout the tour?
It is the same musicians for the entire tour. I think some of them I got to perform with the last time, I don’t think all of them will be available for this tour coming up, but I think we have mostly the same ones and our musical director will be someone different, it was Larry for the previous tour but for this one it will be Gerard Salonga, my brother, he just sent me a text message saying that his UK visa had arrived, he sent me a photograph of him holding his visa and passport, so he’s so excited.
You have won many awards during your career, is there any one that you are particularly proud of?
I think it’s a tie between the Olivier and the Tony; I think the Olivier because that was like the first, you know, the first time I was recognised for my work in the UK and I think I just felt a great sense of relief holding this very heavy bronze statue in my hand, but the Tony awards, that would be the awards show that I was watching as a kid in the Philippines, so to actually have one that was nuts, and it really was something to actually hold it in my hand and I knew that a lot of eyes from home were watching the telecast as well . I just felt very proud to get that one.
How did you manage to team up with Il Divo, was that about 8 years ago now? That was quite a tour wasn’t it?
Yes, that was in 2014 and I started touring with them on my birthday. They asked and I answered, and we all just had such a good time. We started off in Asia then we hit North America and finally Europe, so I spent much of 2014 touring with them and I can just remember them being so wonderful when Carlos passed away it felt very sad and I can always remember him being very sweet and wonderful, and God what a voice, a voice from the heavens, he was just incredible and you know, him having been part of the Spanish production of Les Miz as Marius we felt something, you know, a connection.
On doing my research for this interview, I discovered that you had once played the part of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, which I hadn’t known. Is there any other musical that you wish you had been able to do but not yet had the opportunity?
I don’t know. I think as I get older, I think a lot of the songs for older women will be the ones I’ll be gunning for, because my ingénue days are over and I’m quite happy about that. Yes, I think eventually as I’ll get a little bit older and I should be able to play Mama Rose in Gypsy, and Joanne in Company.
So, you’ve got plenty of choice?
Well, to bring this interview to a close now, can I say thank you very much for taking the time to speak to me and on behalf of North West End UK, best wishes for your upcoming UK tour – and I’ll personally see you when you come to the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester.
Lea Salonga tours the UK from the 18th June. Full details and tickets can be found at https://leasalonga.com/