Lea Salonga (born on February 22, 1971 in the Philippines) is a Filipina singer and actress who is best known for her musical role in Miss Saigon. In the field of musical theatre, she is recognized for having won the Olivier, Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics, and Theatre World Awards, the first to win various international awards for a single role. She was also the first Asian to play Eponine in the musical Les Mis?©rables on Broadway.
Salonga is the singing voice of Princess Jasmine from Aladdin in 1992 and Fa Mulan for Mulan and Mulan II in 1998 and in 2004, respectively.
1978-1988 Early career
Salonga started as a child star in the Philippines, making her professional debut in 1978 at the age of seven through 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 Tattoo, The Sound of Music, The Goodbye Girl, Paper Moon, and The Fantasticks.
She began her recording career at the age of ten with her first album, Small Voice, which received a gold certification. A song on the album, the duet "Happiness", marked her first recording collaboration with her younger brother Gerard Salonga, who would, years later, work with her either as musical director or creative director in her concerts and recordings. Her second album, "Lea", was released in 1988.
In addition to performing in musical theater and recordings, Salonga 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 likewise acted in films, which included the family-oriented Tropang Bulilit, Like Father, Like Son, Ninja Kids, Captain Barbell, and Pik Pak Boom. She also opened for international acts such as Menudo and Stevie Wonder in their concerts in Manila in 1985 and in 1988, respectively.
As a young performer, Lea Salonga received a Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS) award nomination (the Philippine equivalent of an Oscar nomination) for Best Child Actress and three wins from the Aliw (literally, "entertainment") Awards as Best Child Performer.
1989-1992 International career
Salonga's big breakthrough came when she was selected to play Kim in the megahit musical Miss Saigon in 1989. Unable to find a strong enough Asian actress/singer in the United Kingdom, the producers scoured many countries looking for the lead role of this major British production. For her audition, the 17-year-old Salonga chose to sing Boublil and Sch?¶nberg's "On My Own" from Les Mis?©rables and was later asked to sing "Sun and Moon" and "somewhere over the rainbow" to test her voice quality's compatibility 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" right before the musical opened. Salonga was offered the lead role, with Wilson as the alternate (who was also assigned the role of bar girl Mimi).
For her performance as Kim, Salonga won the Olivier for Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical for the 1989/1990 season. From its original London home, Miss Saigon moved to Broadway in April 1991. Salonga subsequently garnered 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 musical, and in 2001, at the age of 29 and after doing the Manila run of the musical, Salonga returned to Broadway to close the Broadway production.
Between opening Miss Saigon in 1989 and closing it on Broadway 12 years later in 2001, Salonga became involved in other musical productions and projects.
In 1990, Salonga performed in a major homecoming concert in Manila entitled A Miss Called Lea. She also received a Presidential Award of Merit from Philippine president Corazon Aquino.
In 1993, upon completion of her initial stint as Kim on Broadway, Salonga played the role of street waif Eponine in the Broadway production of Les Mis?©rables, and later flew to Los Angeles to perform the song "A Whole New World" of Disney's Aladdin (Salonga is the singing voice of Princess Jasmine) 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 Walks in They're Playing Our Song, and as The Witch in Into The Woods.
In 1995, Salonga, back in the U.S., played the role of Geri Riordan, an 18-year-old adopted Vietnamese American child in the movie Redwood Curtain, which starred John Lithgow and Jeff Daniels. She then flew back to the Philippines to star with Filipino matinee idol Aga Muhlach in the critically-acclaimed film Sana Maulit Muli, which gave her her 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 Eponine in the Les Miserable's 10th anniversary presentation called Les Miserables in Concert at London's Royal Albert Hall. Salonga performed as part of a "dream cast" composed of Colm Wilkinson, Michael Ball, Judy Kuhn, and Philip Quast.
In 1996, Salonga was in Les Miserables once again. She played Eponine in the London production of the musical, then continued on to do the role in the musical's U.S. national tour in Hawaii.
From 1997 to 2000, Salonga kept herself busy with 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 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 major tribute concert to Sir Cameron Mackintosh in London called "Hey Mr. Producer: The Musical World of Cameron MacKintosh", where she did numbers from different musicals mounted by the famous producer. 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 closed the millennium with a grand Miss Saigon "homecoming" via the Manila production of the musical 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 also 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 E.R., 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 very successful 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 show, given a brand new libretto and considered one of the 10 best plays on Broadway in 2002 by Time Magazine, garnered Tony Award nominations for Best Book, Best Costume Designer, and Best Choreographer, and earned nominations from the Outer Critics Circle, the Drama League, the Astaire Awards, and Broadway.com's Audience Awards and Broadwayworld.com's Fans' Choice Awards as well. The Salonga-led Broadway revival cast album was also a top contender at the 2003 Grammy Awards for Best Musical Show Album. While Ms. 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 was back in Manila to do her first "all-Filipino" concert called Songs from Home, which later won for her another Aliw Award as Entertainer of the Year (she had won it the year prior). 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 captured the critics' notice at 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 was back on the stage as Lizzie in the Manila production of the musical Baby, which earned her yet another nomination from the Aliw Awards.
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, too, 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 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 Mis?©rables on Broadway, this time as Fantine. She is slated 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 Mis?©rables, 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 Mis?©rables, 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.
As of November 2007, 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.
In her 30-year career thus far, Salonga has performed for five Philippine presidents (from Ferdinand Marcos to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo), three American Presidents (George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush), and for Diana, Princess of Wales and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Salonga, on July 3, 2008 started writing as columnist in Philippine Daily Inquirer - "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, Lea Salonga received a standing ovation for her historic solo concert at Frank Gehry???s masterpiece on July 11 at Los Angeles??? iconic 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.
According to Billboard.com, the acclaimed singing actress is scheduled to offer concerts in Nevada, Washington, California, Indiana, New York, Hawaii and more in 2009 and was also asked to dance the OCHO OCHO AND SPAGHETTI..
In July of 2009 Lea was selected to become a new ambassador for Avon's line of anti-aging skin care products Anew Rejuvenate.
Also in the same month, Lea was invited to sing at the 95th Anniversary Special of Iglesia Ni Cristo. She was given a standing ovation after her first song, which was an original Iglesia Ni Cristo composition and arranged by Ryan Cayabyab.
On August 5, 2009, at the final requiem mass for President Corazon Aquino, Lea Salonga sang Bayan Ko as the final song right before Aquino's cortege is brought out from the Manila Cathedral.
Lea Salonga is the eldest child of Feliciano Genuino Salonga and Ligaya Alcantara Imutan and spent the first six years of her childhood in Angeles City before moving to Manila. She is the sister of composer Gerard Salonga. Contrary to popular belief, she is not related to former Senator Jovito Salonga.
She studied at the O. B. Montessori Center in Greenhills, 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. She was a college freshman at the Ateneo de Manila University when she auditioned for Miss Saigon and attended Fordham University when she was in New York.
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, born on May 16, 2006 and named after Salonga's late mother-in-law, Beverly Chien.