“I auditioned, got in and the love affair started from there and just kept going. In fact, it’s the longest relationship that I’ve had.” Lea Salonga (on her involvement in theater)
Filipino actress and singer Lea Salonga is widely recognized for playing Kim in the musical play “Miss Saigon” (1989). She won the Laurence Olivier, Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Theatre World Awards for the performance. Starting out as a child performer in the Philippines, where she was nominated for a FAMAS Award (the Philippine equivalent of the Oscars) for her performance in the film “Tropang bulilit” and released her No. 1 hit debut album “Small Voice” (both 1981), Salonga has become one of the best selling female artists of all-time in the Philippines with sales over 19 million thanks to a series of successful recordings. As far as her acting goes, after her success with “Miss Saigon,” Salonga portrayed Eponine and Fantine in the musical “Les Miserables” on Broadway and starred as Mei-Li in the Broadway revival of “Flower Drum Song.” She also provided the singing voice of Princess Jasmine in the animated movie “Aladdin” (1992) and Mulan in “Mulan” (1998) and “Mulan II” (2004). On the small screen, one of People magazine's “50 Most Beautiful People in the World” (1991), Salonga has appeared in the series “ER” and “As the World Turns” and the TV film “Redwood Curtain” (ABC, 1995). In the Philippines, she gained further attention with her FAMAS nominating performance in the critically acclaimed film “Sana maulit muli” (1995).
Salonga is married and has one child.
Pride of the Philippines
Childhood and Family:
Born Maria Lea Carmen Imutan Salonga on February 22, 1971, in Manila, Philippines, Lea Salonga is the daughter of Feliciano Genuino Salonga and Ligaya Alcantara Imutan. She has one brother, Gerard Salonga, who is a musician and symphony orchestra conductor, and an adopted sister named Shiela. Lea was raised in Angeles City in Pampanga, Philippines, until age six before moving back to Manila. She attended O. B. Montessori Center, an Italian based school, in Greenhills in San Juan City, Manila, where she actively participated in school productions. She later briefly took a pre-med course at the Ateneo de Manila University during mid 1988 to early 1989. The aspiring dermatologist dropped out of school to audition for “Miss Saigon.” During the spring semester in 2000, she briefly attended Fordham University's Lincoln Center campus in Manhattan. Lea also enrolled in the extension program of the University of the Philippines College of Music.
On January 10, 2004, Lea married Robert Charles Chien, a Chinese-Japanese managing director of an entertainment software company in Los Angeles, California. The couple had a daughter they named Nicole Beverly Chien on May 16, 2006, in Manila. Lea is an avid fan of video games and goes by the nicknames Tata, Manang, Lei, and Pride of the Philippines.
We Could Be In Love
Lea Salonga began her professional career on stage at age 7 when she starred in the musical “The King and I” (1978) in the Philippines. She continued to perform in other productions such as “Annie” (as Annie), “The Sound of Music,” “Paper Moon,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “The Rose Tattoo,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “The Fantasticks” and “The Goodbye Girl.”
At age 10, Salonga made her debut as a recording artist with the release of the album “Small Voice” (1981). It debuted at No. 35 on the Philippine Pop Album Chart and had risen to No. 1 by week 6. It received gold certification. The album also made the Top 5 in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. Following the album's success, she hosted her own variety show titled “Love, Lea.”
Also in 1981, Salonga made her big screen acting debut playing Lisa on the Filipino dramatic comedy “Tropang bulilit” and was nominated for a FAMAS (Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences) Award in the category of Best Child Actress for her performance. She was also handed three Aliw Awards for Best Child Performer from 1981 to 1983. She went on to play roles in the films “Like Father, Like Son” (1985), “Ninja Kids” (1986), “Captain Barbell” (1986) and “Pik pak boom” (1988).
“Lea,” Solonga's sophomore album, was released in 1988. The album went to No. 2 on the Philippine Pop Album Chart and No. 1 on the Philippine R&B/Soul Album Chart. Thanks to the hit singles “Bakit Labis Kitang Mahal” (#1), “That Situation” (duet with Menudo, #1) and “Nandito Ako” (#3), “Lea” received rave reviews from critics and eventually garnered multi platinum certification. The same year, she opened for Stevie Wonder during his concerts in Manila.
Salonga's massive breakthrough arrived when she was chosen to originate the lead role of Kim in the West End musical “Miss Saigon,” which was about a Vietnamese girl and an American soldier who fall in love during the final days of the Vietnam War. The play opened at the Theatre Royal in London on September 20, 1989, and Salonga took home a Laurence Olivier for Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical for the 1989/1990 season for her performance. The musical made its Broadway debut at New York City's Broadway Theatre on April 11, 1991, with Salonga reprising her role of Kim. She subsequently won the 1991 Tony for Best Actress in a Musical, the Drama Desk for Outstanding Actress in a Musical, the Outer Critics Circle for Outstanding Actress in a Musical and the Theatre World Award. She would sporadically return to play Kim on Broadway during 1993 to 1996 and in 2001 closed the Broadway production. She would also revisit the London stage to close the musical in 1999.
After contributing to the recordings of the 1990 “Miss Saigon (Original London Cast)” and the 1992 “The King And I (Hollywood Studio Cast),” with Julie Andrews and Ben Kingsley, Salonga provided the singing voice for Princess Jasmine on the song “A Whole New World,” alongside Brad Kane, the singing voice of Aladdin, on the Disney animated film “Aladdin” (1992). The two also performed the song for their characters at the 65th Annual Academy Awards, where the song won an Oscar for Song of the Year. She returned to her home country during the early 1990s when she performed a homecoming concert in Manila called “A Miss Called Lea” (1990) and starred in the film “Bakit labis kitang mahal” (1992).
In 1993, Salonga launched her international album “Lea Salonga,” which was produced by American record producer Glen Ballard, who previously worked with Michael Jackson, Jack Wagner, Paula Abdul, Wilson Phillips and other noted artists. The album, released under Atlantic Records, charted at No. 1 on the Philippine Pop Albums Chart and the Philippine R&B/Soul Albums Chart as well as in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. It spawned the popular Filipino hit singles “Every Time We Fall” (#1), “We Could Be In Love” (#1) and “Vision of You” (#2). Although “Lea Salonga” went platinum in the Philippines and sold 3 million pieces worldwide, the album only enjoyed minor success in the United States.
Also in 1993, Salonga performed on the TV special “Olsen Twins Mother's Day Special” and played the role of street waif Eponine on the Broadway production of “Les Misérables.” She also played Eponine in the 10th Anniversary Concert of the musical at London's Royal Albert Hall in October 1995. The cast included Colm Wilkinson, Philip Quast, Ruthie Henshall, Alun Armstrong, Jenny Galloway, Adam Searles, Hannah Chick, Michael Ball, Michael Maguire, Judy Kuhn and Anthony Crivello. In 1994, Salonga performed in several musical theater productions in the Philippines and Singapore and portrayed Witch in “Into the Woods,” Sandy in “Grease” and Sonia Walks in “They're Playing Our Song.”
Back to the United States, Salonga portrayed the role of Geri Riordan, an 18 year old adopted Vietnamese American child and piano prodigy, on the Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie “Redwood Curtain” (1995), opposite Jeff Daniels as Lyman Fellers and John Lithgow as Laird Riordan. Later that same year, she flew back to the Philippines to co-star with Filipino matinee idol Aga Muhlach in the critically praised film “Sana maulit muli” (“Hopefully, Once More,” 1995), which was directed and co-written by Olivia M. Lamasan. Playing Agnes, she was nominated for the FAMAS Award for Best Actress and the Gawad Urian Award for Best Actress. The next year, she was invited to reprise the role of Éponine in the London production of “Les Misérables” and in an American national tour in Hawaii.
In 1997, Salonga released the studio album “I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing” in the Philippines. A mixture of old hits and new ones, the album earned mixed reviews from critics and only went gold. In 1998, she provided the singing voice of Fa Mulan in Disney's popular animated film “Mulan.” She also performed the songs “Reflection,” “Honor to Us All” (with Beth Fowler and Marni Nixon), “I'll Make a Man Out of You” (with Donny Osmond, Harvey Fierstein, Eddie Murphy, Jerry Tondo and Matthew Wilder) and “A Girl Worth Fighting For” (with Harvey Fierstein, James Hong, Jerry Tondo and Matthew Wilder) on the film's soundtrack. The album rose to No. 24 on the Billboard 200.
Salonga bounced back with her next studio album, “By Heart” (1999). It became a chart topper on the Philippine Pop Albums Chart (2 weeks) and the Philippine R&B/Soul Albums Chart (7 weeks) and went triple platinum in the Philippines when it sold two million pieces worldwide. The album produced two crossover No. 1 hits with “I Remember The Boy” and “I Don't Love You Anymore.” It was followed by another multi platinum album, “Lea... In Love” (also 1999), which spawned the No. 1 R&B/Soul hits “Even If” and “Friend of Mine.”
After “Lea Salonga Live Vol. 1” and “Lea Salonga Live Vol. 2” (both 2000), Salonga released “Lea Salonga: The Christmas Album” (also 2000). It peaked at No. 5 on the Philippine Pop Albums Chart and No. 4 on the Philippine R&B/Soul Albums Chart. The song “My Grown-up Christmas List” peaked at No. 9 on the Philippine R&B/Soul Top 20 and No. 13 on the Philippine Top 40. “Songs from The Screen” followed in 2001. It found the singer performing live at the PICC Plenary Hall in Manila with the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra. The same year, she also appeared as Amparo, a patient with lymphoma, in an episode of the NBC medical hit “ER” called “I'll Be Home for Christmas” and as Lien Hughes, a role formerly played by Ming-Na Wen, in the soap opera “As The World Turns.” She would return to the soap in 2003 to reprise the role.
In 2002, Salonga revisited Broadway when she landed the role of a Chinese immigrant named Mei-Li in a revival of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's “Flower Drum Song,” opposite Jose Llana. The musical, reworked by Asian playwright David Henry Hwang and directed and choreographed by Robert Longbottom, ran for 169 performances and was nominated for three Tony Awards. Salonga received rave reviews for her performance and was nominated for a Drama League nomination for Distinguished Performance and a Theatre Los Angeles Ovation for Best Lead Actress in a Musical.
Salonga made her non-musical debut in the stage production of David Auburn's “Proof” in Manila, where she starred as Catherine. She also portrayed Catherine in Los Angeles in 2001 and appeared in the 2002 Broadway production of “Flower Drum Song.” She followed it up performing in a concert titled “The Broadway Concert” at the Philippine International Convention Center and the concert was recorded for the 2002 critically acclaimed live album of the same name. She then performed with Harry Connick, Peter Gallagher and Michelle Lee in a tribute number for Richard Rodgers at the 56th Tony Awards in 2002.
In 2003, Salonga embarked on her first all-Filipino concert in Manila titled “Songs from Home,” which was recorded for the 2004 “Songs from Home: Live Concert Recording,” released after the 2003 “100% Lea Gives Her Best.” She recalled, “This is quite possibly the most special concert I've ever done. Throughout my many years of performing, never have I had the joy of singing a concert repertoire composed solely of original Filipino music. The preparation process has been challenging, nerve wracking, and at times frustrating, but definitely exciting and very fulfilling. My heart is full that for the next couple of hours, we'll be able to share some (unfortunately, only some) of the best music ever written.”
Salonga won two consecutive Aliw Award as Entertainer of the Year in 2002 and 2003. She went on to earn an Aliw nomination for her portrayal of Lizzie in the Manila production of the musical “Baby” (2004).
2005 saw Salonga tour in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlantic City and Chicago. It was followed by concerts in Washington, D.C. and Norfolk, Virginia. The same year, she also provided the singing voice of Mulan in the direct to video sequel “Mulan II” and performed “Lesson Number One” on the film's soundtrack. She was then honored with the Golden Artist Award from FAMAS.
Salonga released the seventh studio album “Inspired” on February 19, 2007, which went platinum. On March 2, 2007, she began the role of Fantine in the Broadway revival of the musical “Les Miserables.” President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo attended the Broadhurst Theatre to watch Salonga in her role as Fantine in “Les Misérables” on September 27, 2007.
Salonga continues performing in concerts and events. In July 2010, she played Grizabella in the Lunchbox Theatrical Productions staging of “Cats” in Manila. She is set to reprise her role of Fantine in the 25th Anniversary Concert of “Les Miserables” in October 2010.
Metro Manila Film Festival: Festival Prize, Best Theme Song, “The Wanderer in the Land of Elementalia,” 2008
FAMAS: Golden Artist Award, 2005
Tony: Best Actress in a Musical, “Miss Saigon,” 1991
Drama Desk: Outstanding Actress in a Musical, “Miss Saigon,” 1991
Outer Critics Circle: Outstanding Actress in a Musical, “Miss Saigon,” 1991
Theatre World: “Miss Saigon”
Laurence Olivier: Best Actress in a Musical or Entertainment, “Miss Saigon,” 1989/1990