REVIEW: Lea Salonga: Live In Concert With The Sydney Symphony Orchestra
A long time ago – thirty-one-and-a-half years ago, to be exact – I saw the original London production of Miss Saigon at the first Saturday matinee after press night (no of course you can’t believe I’m that old). The show’s worldwide search for a star had been a significant element of the pre-opening publicity; cynical student that I was, I thought nobody could possibly live up to that level of hype - until Lea Salonga started singing I’d Give My Life For You, when the combination of her flawless voice and the astonishing intensity she brought to the song made my mouth drop open.
She’s a much bigger name now than she was then, but – whatever issues you may have with the show itself, or with other aspects of the original production’s casting – her London debut was one of the great star-making performances, and her subsequent transfer to Broadway in the role, coupled with her voice work in Disney’s Aladdin and Mulan, propelled her into a major international career – hence this concert, filmed in Sydney (as opposed to Manila, London, or New York, the cities where she made her name) in November 2019, and subsequently screened in the USA by PBS and released as a record album by Broadway Records.
Thirty years on, miraculously, her voice is still as pristine as it was in 1989. More than that, while Salonga has played an impressive range of theatre roles on Broadway and in Manila, she’s also matured into a more or less peerless concert artist, which is a leap by no means all musical theatre performers are able to make. She has great taste, too, and she knows how to pull a surprisingly eclectic selection of songs together into a coherent programme.
Refreshingly, she doesn’t simply fall back on a catalogue of her greatest hits. Of course she includes A Whole New World from Aladdin – a duet with guest performer Mat Verevis – and Reflection, one of her songs from Mulan, along with The Human Heart, the song she made her own in the Broadway revival of Once On This Island. Miss Saigon, though, is represented only by Why God Why? (with the pronouns unchanged), a song she didn’t sing in the show. Verevis’s rather wan contribution aside, these are all terrific performances, but the album’s highlights – as you might guess if you’ve heard Blurred Lines, her 2016 recording of her cabaret act at 54 Below - are the numbers in which Salonga goes off-piste into a more unexpected repertoire.
A medley of soprano songs from Broadway’s golden age – Will He Like Me? and Ice Cream from She Loves Me, and Till There Was You from The Music Man – is simply gorgeous, and the keys are not lowered and the big high notes are all present and correct (and impeccably produced). She brings a sly sense of fun to her closing Boyband Medley, which includes songs by Take That (Back For Good), Hanson (Mmmbop), NSYNC (Tearin’ Up My Heart), the Backstreet Boys (I Want It That Way), Westlife (My Love), and One Direction (What Makes You Beautiful). Best of all, she belts her way through a roof-raising, pull-out-all-the-stops rendition of rock band Train’s 2001 hit Drops Of Jupiter.
Rounding out the package, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gerard Salonga – yes, Lea’s brother – kick things off in fine style with a specially-arranged overture, which begins with the opening section of the overture to Miss Saigon and encompasses a couple of songs from Salonga’s stage CV which aren’t heard in this concert (Sun And Moon, I Dreamed A Dream). What you’ll mostly take away from this recording, though, is Salonga’s enormous range, both as a singer and as a performer. It’s not every singer who could put Will He Like Me? and Mmmbop on the same programme and get away with it; this is a tremendously entertaining collection of songs, and a beautifully-produced record of what must have been a thoroughly dazzling live performance.
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Live in Concert with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra - 2019 Lea Salonga Blurred Lines - 2016 Lea Salonga The Music Man Once on This Island She Loves Me Aladdin Mulan Miss Saigon Sydney Symphony Orchestra Gerard Salonga Lea Salonga I'd Give My Life for You (12) Till There Was You (54) The Human Heart (9) Will He Like Me? (21) Ice Cream (18) A Whole New World (74) Reflection (33) Sun and Moon (16) Why God Why? (21) I Dreamed a Dream (63) Toggle Additional (18)