The original Miss Saigon, Lea Salonga, dazzled York with a mixture of contemporary songs, musical theatre classics and personal favourites.
- York Barbican
- 18 July 2019
- Barbican website
For many of us Lea is the voice of our childhood. From her iconic turns as the singing voices of Mulan in Mulan and Princess Jasmine in Aladdin, her voice is one many households grew up with hearing. And oh what a joy it was to see her live.
The set was simple, just a backdrop that changed colour for each song. But it was extremely effective particularly during This Is Me when the backdrop created a rainbow of colours.
Also during the opening Feeling Good; the combination of a gold backdrop and dazzling lights made you feel like you were transported to the glitz and glamour of Broadway.
Another advantage of the simple set was being able to have the band on stage which was definitely a treat.
Poised and regal
Lea was accompanied by a live band. Met with rousing applause as they entered the stage, they started the show with an instrumental medley of Lea’s iconic roles.
Then Lea entered the stage, looking poised and regal like the queen she is, wearing a smart black suit and sparkling top. But she was never above her audience. Throughout the show she was funny, down-to-earth, friendly and teasing with us, and was particularly banterous with a rowdy group near the front. The audience loved her.
Before she started singing, Lea told the audience that she’d just been to supposedly the best fish and chip shop around 20 minutes away and that it had “exceeded all [her] expectations”.
She also apologised for having to move the tour to the summer, (Lea was meant to tour the UK in February but she broke her leg during a skiing trip) but Lea was pleased that she got to be in the UK for summer as she loves British summer time.
This made the audience laugh but she promises there’s “no shade!” and that she loves the cooler temperatures and drizzle.
Lea opened the show with Feeling Good and then went straight into Go The Distance from the Disney animated film Hercules. She remarked that she likes her sets to reflect the mindset she’s currently feeling.
Then came Reflection, her classic song from the Disney animated film Mulan. She commented how excited she was for the new live action Mulan, and spoke passionately about all the strong Asian girls and women she has talked to about this role, and how representation is starting to get better. It was truly a special moment to hear this sung live.
We were treated to breathtaking renditions of Fast Car and Drops of Jupiter, the latter she dedicated to anyone who had come through the other side of cancer and also to anyone who looked after those who didn’t.
During the show Lea also performed more musical theatre numbers like Another Hundred People from Company, Journey To The Past from Anastasia, Unusual Way from Nine, and The Human Heart from the Tony winning revival of Once On This Island where Lea played the Goddess of Love, Erzulie. This is one of her new favourite songs to sing and one of my new favourite songs to hear her sing!
To finish Act One, Lea sang I’d Give My Life For You from Miss Saigon. Lea originated the role of Kim in the musical both in the West End and on Broadway, and won the Olivier and Tony award for her performance.
Lea told us that she first sang this song over 30 years ago but that she still finds new layers to it, and how it took on a whole new meaning once her daughter was born and that she understands the song now.
A few highlights were a hauntingly beautiful acoustic version of Take On Me, an audience sing-a-long to Let It Go from Frozen, and a cover of Story Of My Life by One Direction which received one of the loudest cheers of the night.
It had been recommended to her by her brother Gerard. “What do I and Harry Styles have in common?” Lea asked. “Nothing!” But she told us it’s now one of her favourite songs to sing.
To sing A Whole New World, Lea asked for a male volunteer from the audience to duet with her. She chose Sam Wickham, who had the audience and Lea in stitches when he proudly said “I do Michael Buble on the weekends” without thinking.
The duet was wonderful and very touching. Lea shared with us that she’s been asking audience members to sing with her for the last 13 years.
Les Mis mash-up
Another highlight was her mash-up of I Dreamed A Dream and On My Own from Les Miserables. One of my personal first memories of musical theatre was watching the Les Miserables 10th anniversary DVD which starred Lea reprising the role of Eponine.
I was too young at the time to understand any of the plot but I was captivated watching Lea’s performance. I was similarly captivated this time too. Her performance was very moving.
Lea received three well deserved standing ovations, and did a double encore. She performed an electrifying rendition of This Is Me from The Greatest Showman that had the audience singing along, and then an exquisite version of Greatest Love Of All where you could have heard a pin drop. The audience didn’t want her to leave, and I could have easily listened to her singing and telling stories all night.
Lea’s voice is simply stunning, she has incredible control and a strong vibrato. Her voice is powerful on the low notes and beautiful on the higher notes, and she glides up and down her range with seeming ease. Her stage presence is inviting and warm and she is a masterclass in professionalism. She had her audience entranced throughout her performance and we all knew that we were witnessing a living legend.
After the show, Lea signed merchandise in the foyer. The queue was very long and snaked all around the foyer but Lea gracefully and tirelessly signed every single person’s merch. A Queen indeed.