Maria Lea Carmen Imutan Salonga KLD (born February 22, 1971), better known as Lea Salonga (/ˈleɪə səˈlɒŋɡə/), is a Filipina singer and actress who starred in the lead role of Kim in the musical Miss Saigon, for which she won the Olivier, Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics and Theatre World awards. Salonga is the first Filipino artist to sign to an international record label (having been signed to Atlantic Records in 1993). She is also the first Philippine-based artist to have received a major album release and distribution deal in the United States (the second being Charice Pempengco with her 2010 album Charice), and one of the best-selling Filipino artists of all time, having sold over five million copies of her albums worldwide.
She was the first Asian actress to play the roles of Éponine and Fantine in the musical Les Misérables on Broadway. She portrayed Éponine in the musical's 10th anniversary production and Fantine in 25th anniversary show in London. She also provided the singing voice of two official Disney Princesses: Jasmine in Aladdin (1992), and Fa Mulan in Mulan (1998). Salonga was named a Disney Legend in 2011 for her work with The Walt Disney Company.
Life and career:
1971-89: Early life and career beginnings:
Maria Lea Carmen Imutan Salonga was born at 8:55 AM on February 22, 1971 at Medical Center Manila in Ermita, Manila to Feliciano Genuino Salonga and María Ligaya Alcantara Imutan. She spent the first six years of her childhood in Angeles City before moving to Manila. She has a brother named Gerard Salonga who is an orchestral conductor.
She made her professional debut in 1978 at the age of seven in the musical The King and I by Repertory Philippines. She became the lead star of Annie and joined other productions such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Fiddler on the Roof, The Rose T, The Goodbye Girl, Paper Moon and The Fantasticks. In 1985, she and her brother took part on the eight Metro Manila Popular Music Festival as the interpreters for the song entry titled "Musika, Lata, Sipol at La La La" which was composed by Tess Concepcion.
In addition to performing in musical theater and recordings, Salonga also had several television projects through GMA Network where she worked as a child actor and teen idol. She hosted her own musical television show, Love, Lea, and was a member of the cast of German Moreno's teen variety show That's Entertainment. She acted in films, which included the family-oriented Tropang Bulilit, Like Father, Like Son, Ninja Kids, Captain Barbell, and Pik Pak Boom. As a young performer, Salonga received a Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS) award nomination for Best Child Actress, and three wins from the Alíw (Tagalog, "entertainment") Awards as Best Child Performer.
She studied and finished her secondary education in 1988 at the O. B. Montessori Center in Greenhills, San Juan, Metro Manila, where she was a Bergamo 1 Student and an active participant in school productions. She also attended the University of the Philippines College of Music's extension program aimed at training musically talented children in music and stage movement. A college freshman at the Ateneo de Manila University when she auditioned for Miss Saigon, she later took two courses at Fordham University's Lincoln Center campus while in between jobs in New York.
She also opened for international acts such as Menudo and Stevie Wonder in their concerts in Manila in 1985 and in 1988, respectively.
1989-92: Miss Saigon, awards, and international breakthrough:
Salonga was selected to play Kim in the musical Miss Saigon in 1989. Unable to find a strong enough East Asian actress/singer in the United Kingdom, the producers scoured many countries looking for the lead. For her audition, the then 17-year-old Salonga chose to sing Boublil and Schönberg's "On My Own" from Les Misérables and was later asked to sing "Sun and Moon" to test the compatibility of her voice quality with the songs in the musical. The members of the panel were impressed with Salonga's rendition of the songs, noting that from Salonga's very first note, they already knew they had a potential Kim. Salonga competed with childhood friend and fellow Repertory Philippines performer Monique Wilson as they were tested with songs from the musical, which included "Too Much for One Heart", a number replaced by the duet "Please" just before the musical opened.> Salonga was ultimately won the lead role, with Wilson named her understudy and given the role of the bar girl named Mimi.
For her performance as Kim, Salonga won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical for the 1989-90 season. From its original London home, Miss Saigon moved to Broadway in April of 1991. Salonga subsequently won the Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and the Theatre World Awards for the same role. Between 1993 and 1996, she was asked periodically to play Kim on Broadway to boost ticket sales. In 1999, she was invited back to London to close the West End production and in 2001, at the age of 29 and after finishing the Manila run of the musical, Salonga returned to Broadway to close the show.
In 1990, Salonga performed in a homecoming concert in Manila entitled A Miss Called Lea. She also received a Presidential Award of Merit from President Corazon Aquino.
1993-96: Les Miserables, Broadway productions and Disney involvement:
In 1993, upon completion of her initial stint as Kim on Broadway, Salonga played the role of street waif Éponine in the Broadway production of Les Misérables, and later flew to Los Angeles to perform the song "A Whole New World" of Disney's Aladdin with Brad Kane at the 65th Annual Academy Awards, where the song won an Oscar. That same year, she released her self-titled international debut album with Atlantic Records, which had modest sales in the USA but went platinum in the Philippines and sold 3 million copies worldwide.
In 1994, Salonga played in various musical theater productions in the Philippines and Singapore. She starred as Sandy in Grease, as Sonia Walsk in They're Playing Our Song, and as The Witch in Into The Woods.
Back in the U.S. in 1995, Salonga played the role of Geri Riordan, an 18-year-old adopted Vietnamese American child in the Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie Redwood Curtain, which starred John Lithgow and Jeff Daniels. She then flew back to the Philippines to star with Filipino matinée idol Aga Muhlach in the critically acclaimed film Sana Maulit Muli, which gave her a second Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS) award nomination, this time for Best Actress. She accepted an invitation from Sir Cameron Mackintosh to play the role of Éponine in his 10th anniversary production called Les Miserables in Concert at London's Royal Albert Hall. Salonga performed along with Colm Wilkinson, Michael Ball, Judy Kuhn, and Philip Quast.
In 1996, Salonga was in Les Misérables once again. She played Éponine in the London production of the musical, then continued on to do the role in the musical's U.S. national tour in Hawaii.
1997-03: Continued Broadway success and return to Manila:
From 1997 to 2000, Salonga did recordings and concerts in the Philippines and another engagement in London, in addition to her periodic returns to Miss Saigon in London and on Broadway. In 1997, she released I'd Like to Teach The World to Sing (recordings from her childhood days) to gold sales in the Philippines. That recording was followed by Lea... In Love in 1998 At the age of 28, Salonga moved to New York City, purchasing her own apartment (which she still owns up to at least 2013). and By Heart in 2000, with both albums reaching multiple platinum status in the Philippines. In addition to the release of these albums, she participated in the tribute concert to Sir Cameron Mackintosh in London called "Hey Mr. Producer: The Musical World of Cameron MacKintosh", where she did numbers from several of his musicals. She also performed in four concerts: The Homecoming Concert, The Millennium Concert, The Best of Manila and Songs from the Screen - the last two being benefit shows. Salonga returned to Manila in Miss Saigon, staged at the Cultural Center of the Philippines at the end of 2000.
After Miss Saigon 's closing on Broadway in 2001, Salonga recreated the role of Lien Hughes originally played by Ming-Na Wen in the soap opera As the World Turns. After completing her contract that year, she was asked to return to the role in 2003. She guested on Russell Watson's The Voice concert, narrated for the television special My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States, and appeared on the Christmas episode of the TV medical drama ER, playing the role of a patient with lymphoma.
In 2002, Salonga returned to Broadway to play the role of a Chinese immigrant in a reinterpretation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song opposite Jose Llana. This was after the reinvented musical had a run at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in 2001 with Salonga playing the lead role and with the show garnering multiple wins and nominations, including Lead Actress in a Musical for Salonga, from the Theatre Los Angeles Ovation Awards. The Salonga-led Broadway revival cast album was also a top contender at the 2003 Grammy Awards for Best Musical Show Album. While Salonga's performance was received positively by theater critics such as Matthew Murray, Heather Cross, Patrick Purdon, and John Simon, among others, she was not nominated at the Tony Awards for her brief stint on Broadway that season, although she did get nominations for Distinguished Performance from the Drama League, for Favorite Lead Actress in a Broadway Musical from Broadway.com's Audience Awards, and for Best Lead Actress in a Musical from Broadwayworld.com's Fans' Choice Awards. Between the 2001 Los Angeles and 2002 Broadway productions of Flower Drum Song, she performed in a non-musical theatrical production for the first time, playing the role of Catherine in the stage play Proof in Manila. This was followed by a major concert, The Broadway Concert, at the Philippine International Convention Center. She also sang with Harry Connick, Peter Gallagher, and Michelle Lee in a tribute number for Richard Rodgers at the 56th Tony Awards.
In 2003, Salonga did her first "all-Filipino" concert in Manila called Songs from Home, which later won a second Aliw Award as Entertainer of the Year; she also won the previous year. Upon her return to the U.S., she performed in several shows at the Mohegan Sun in Montville, Connecticut. This was followed by a Christmas concert in the Philippines called Home for Christmas at the end of the year, which was nominated for the 18th Aliw Awards, and performances at the Lenape Regional Performing Arts Center in Marlton, New Jersey the following year, in 2004. Later that year, she played Lizzie in the Manila production of the musical Baby, which earned her another nomination from the Aliw Awards.
2004-07: International venture, soundtracks for Disney's Aladdin and Mulan:
In 2005, Salonga played her first US concert tour in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlantic City, and Chicago. Concert dates in Washington, D.C. and Norfolk, Virginia followed. Later that year, Salonga performed with a 26-piece ensemble to a sold-out crowd at the Isaac Stern Hall in Carnegie Hall for the benefit of Diverse City Theater Company. Between her concerts, the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS) bestowed her with the Golden Artist Award at the 53rd FAMAS Awards in honor of her international achievements. She performed during the grand opening of Hong Kong's Disneyland and recorded two songs on tenor Daniel Rodriguez's In the Presence CD. That same year, Salonga did voice work for Disney's English dub of Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro as Mrs. Kusakabe. Salonga's other Disney film credits include the singing voice of Princess Jasmine for Aladdin in 1992 and Fa Mulan for Mulan and Mulan II in 1998 and in 2004, respectively.
In the forward for Linda Marquart's "The Right Way to Sing", Salonga is featured, writing, " in spite of the compact size of this book, it is very thorough and extensive-a "nuts and bolts" manual that will benefit both the novice and the seasoned pro. "
In 2006, at the 15th Asian Games in Doha, Qatar, Salonga concluded the closing ceremony with the song "Triumph of The One" before an audience of 50,000 people at the Khalifa Stadium.
In 2007, Salonga released her first studio album in seven years called Inspired, which has been certified platinum, and finished another stint in the musical Les Misérables on Broadway, this time as Fantine. She was scheduled to appear in a number of musical events scheduled in different countries until 2008.
Salonga received the Order of Lakandula Award from Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in recognition of her excellence in her craft and for using her talents to benefit Philippine society. It was also announced that she would return to Broadway in the musical Les Misérables, replacing Daphne Rubin-Vega as Fantine on March 6. Her tenure started, however, on March 2, four days earlier than planned. Her casting on the show has been credited with boosting the musical's ticket sales on Broadway. On September 27, 2007, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was in New York, watched Salonga in her new role in the musical, whose cast that night included Filipino Americans Adam Jacobs as Marius and Ali Ewoldt as Cosette. Her contract with the musical ended on October 21, 2007 and she was succeeded by Broadway's original Cosette Judy Kuhn. For her performances in this revival, Salonga received rave reviews and made it again to the short list of Broadway.com's Audience Award favorites--this time for Best Replacement for her new role as Fantine. During her stint on Broadway this season, she appeared on Broadway on Broadway 2007 and Stars in the Alley 2007, spoke at the Broadway Artists Alliance Summer Intensives, guested on the Broadway musical 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and participated in Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS' 12th Annual Nothing Like A Dame event to benefit the women's health initiative of The Actors Fund. Right after doing Les Misérables, she performed in two events: at the US Military Academy Band's concert in West Point where she sang four songs and an encore and in her own concert at the Tarrytown Music Hall in New York.
A number of performances were scheduled for the rest of the year and for 2008, including a Christmas presentation in Manila, concerts in other parts of the Philippines and in California, Hawaii, Hong Kong, and Guam and Broadway Asia Entertainment's international tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, where she plays the lead.
2008-12: Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist, Cinderella, and Miss Universe 2011:
On 3 July 2008, Salonga became a columnist in the Philippine Daily Inquirer with her column "Backstory" (Entertainment section), "Introducing: Lea Salonga, writer". She performed in "Global Pop" at the Music Center on July 11, 2008. It was presented by The Blue Ribbon a group founded by Dorothy Chandler in 1968. Backed by an orchestra of 19 musicians, Salonga received a standing ovation for her solo concert on July 11 at Los Angeles' Walt Disney Concert Hall. Salonga also performed part of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "There's Music in You", as preview of her coming show Cinderella at the Cultural Center of the Philippines on July 29. That same year she received a special citation from Awit Awards, the Philippines' version of Grammys.
From late July 2008 to mid-2009, Salonga played the title role in the 30-week Asian tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, which premiered in Manila in July 2008. According to Billboard.com, Salonga was scheduled to perform in Nevada, Washington, California, Indiana, New York, Hawaii and more in 2009 and was also asked to dance the Filipino novelty dances "Ocho-ocho" and "Spaghetti".
In July 2009, Salonga agreed to advertise the Avon Products line of anti-aging skin care products Anew Rejuvenate in the Philippines.
Also in the same month, Salonga was invited to sing at the 95th Anniversary Special of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC). She was given a standing ovation after her first song, which was an original composition by the Church arranged by Ryan Cayabyab. Salonga sang Patriotic song "Bayan Ko" at the Requiem Mass for former President Corazon Aquino, as a final song before Aquino's casket was brought out of Manila Cathedral.
Salonga celebrated 20 years of Miss Saigon by performing in a concert called "Lea Salonga...Your Songs", at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) Plenary Hall on December 11 and 12, 2009. She conducted an online poll via www.LEAyoursongs.com where fans could request songs they wanted to hear. The concert had crooner Richard Poon, the award-winning dance group Philippine All Stars and Concert Comedy Queen Ai-Ai de las Alas as special guests. "Lea Salonga...Your Songs" was under the musical direction of her brother, Gerard Salonga along with the FILharmoniKA.
From 23 July to 22 August 2010, Salonga played the role of Grizabella in the Manila run of the Asia-Pacific tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
On October 10, 2010, she played Fantine during the 25th Anniversary Concert of Les Misérables, fifteen years after appearing in the 10th Anniversary as Eponine.
In 2010, Salonga joined forces with Avon as a celebrity judge for Avon Voices, Avon's first ever global, online singing talent search for women and songwriting competition for men and women.
Salonga was honored as a Disney Legend on 19 August 2011.
She was chosen to serve as one of the judges in the 60th Miss Universe 2011 Beauty Pageant in São Paulo, Brazil on 12 September 2011. She was tasked to ask Miss Angola Leila Lopes - who went on to become Miss Universe - during the question and answer portion.
Salonga, along with singer and Broadway actor Darren Criss, serenaded composer Alan Menken as Menken was named the winner of the 2011 Maestro Award at the Billboard/Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference on October 24, 2011. The duo sang "A Whole New World" from "Aladdin", a song which Menken himself composed.
Salonga starred in the Old Globe production of Allegiance - A New American Musical, at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego from 6 September - 28 October 2012.
Salonga starred in the Philippine production of the Tony Award-winning comedy God of Carnage from July 13-22, 2012 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Manila. She took on the same role at the DBS Arts Centre in Singapore, from November 6-25, 2012.
Later in 2012, Salonga joined the Candlelight Processional at Epcot in Walt Disney World as narrator on December 14 to 16, a retelling of the Christmas story by a celebrity narrator accompanied by a 50-piece orchestra and a mass choir.
2013-present: American Songbook concert, The Voice of the Philippines, return to Broadway, and other work:
On January 30, 2013, Salonga took part on the 2013 season of Lincoln Center's American Songbook concert series at the Allen Room.
On February 18, 2013, Tony winners Salonga and Tyne Daly and Tony nominee Norm Lewis starred in a concert performance of Ragtime at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall. Salonga played as Mother alongside Daly as Emma Goldman and Lewis as Coalhouse Walker, Jr. Featuring lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, music by Stephen Flaherty and a book Terrence McNally, Ragtime is based on E.L. Doctorow's groundbreaking novel of the same name. Salonga is set to headline a special concert series, "4 Stars One World of Broadway Musicals," set in Tokyo from June 15-23, and in Osaka from June 27-30. Salonga, Ramin Karimloo, Sierra Boggess, and Yu Shirota, will perform.
Within the Philippines, Salonga provided the theme song for TV5's reality singing competition Kanta Pilipinas which premiered on February 8. On February 19, 2013, Salonga announced that she will be one of the four coaches for the upcoming ABS-CBN program, The Voice of the Philippines which premiered on June 23.
On December 2013, Salonga kicked off her concert tour within the country titled "Lea Salonga: Playlist" which celebrated her 35 years in show business. Backing her up was the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of her brother, Gerard, and several supporting artists such as Martin Nievera, Mitoy Yonting and her daughter, Nicole. Originally the concert was only for December but more dates were added for January 2014 due to popular demand.
On January 15, 2014, Salonga confirmed her return for the second season of The Voice of the Philippines and that she will also join the new Philippine version of The Voice Kids.
Salonga recently recorded a song called "Wished That I Could Call You" by songwriters Daniel and Laura Curtis back in October 2013. The song was included in the charity compilation album Children In Need that was released on March 2014.
In March 2015, it was announced that Salonga would return to Broadway in the musical, Allegiance, which will open November 2015 at the Longacre Theatre.
On January 10, 2004, Salonga married Robert Charles Chien, a Chinese-Japanese managing director of an entertainment software company in Los Angeles, California, whom she met while doing Flower Drum Song. They have a daughter, Nicole Beverly, who was born in 2006, named after Salonga's late mother-in-law, Beverly. She is also an avid video game enthusiast, and has mentioned her love for the hobby in several of her print articles. She resides in the Philippines and the United States.
On October 15, 2010, Salonga was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Voice and musical ability:
Salonga has a soprano range from D3 to C6. Salonga has been praised for the control over her powerful vocals which can easily showcase a wide array of emotion and soundscapes. In her popular music releases, Salonga has been known to sing "simple love songs" which is common in traditional Original Pilipino Music. In both Disney princess singing voices, Salonga showcases her head tones which reach up to F5. Salonga's most famous role as Kim in Miss Saigon has been known as showcasing her voice well from the top to the bottom.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license