Reviewer: Gemma Fincher
Theatrical powerhouse and Broadway icon Lea Salonga is currently headlining her first set of UK concerts, bringing her one-woman show to the beautiful Birmingham Symphony Hall as part of her tour. The concert was rescheduled from February due to Salonga breaking her leg on a family skiing holiday; however, the postponement scarcely matters as she delivers a decadent show for an excitable West Midlands audience.
From the moment Salonga and her band appear on stage the audience is engrossed and utterly charmed. With simple staging but an incredibly intricate lighting design, it’s obvious that this concert is going to be a treat for the ears and a feast for the eyes. Salonga has a wonderful stage presence; she’s incredibly witty and utterly charismatic. Her audience engagement is natural and warm and she truly looks like she is enjoying every second. Symphony Hall was made for a voice like Salonga’s, the acoustics are sharp and crisp: the hall is literally the perfect venue for a voice of Salonga’s range and belt and she fills it effortlessly.
The setlist is varied and caters for all tastes combining classic musical theatre with contemporary numbers, opening with a beautifully orchestrated version of Feeling Good. Salonga is perhaps best known for providing the singing voice of Disney’s Mulan and her performance of Reflection is introduced by an incredibly poignant speech about the importance of diversity and visibility and how crucial it is for people to see themselves represented on stage and screen. The emotion continues when Salonga performs I’d Give My Life For You from Miss Saigon, a song that she cites as the gift that keeps on giving. Incredibly, this rescheduled concert coincides with the 30th anniversary of the first rehearsal of the show where she originated the role of Kim aged 18.
The second act contains several highlights including a beautifully stripped back acoustic version of Ah-Ha’s 80’s classic Take On Me which is immediately followed by Burn from Hamilton, a show she jokingly says swept aside her show during the 2016 Tony Award Season. However, she bears no ill will and considers the show a work of genius because “it uses the language of rebellion to sing about revolution” and is driving new audiences to the theatre.
Salonga’s second Disney Princess was Jasmine in Aladdin and no Lea Salonga concert is complete without the iconic duet A Whole New World, for which she plucks a willing participant for the audience. Tonight’s collaborator is Phillip who, despite clearly being incredibly nervous, enjoys some sweet interaction with Salonga, unashamedly “fangirling” and enjoying some amusing banter with the audience before delivering an astonishingly accomplished performance yielding a rapturous reception. A complete once in a life time for Phillip and a joy to witness.
Salonga was the first actress of Asian descent to play the roles of Éponine and Fantine in the musical Les Misérables on Broadway. It seems only fitting then, that she closes the show with a beautiful mash-up of I Dreamed a Dream and On My Own; it’s hard to believe that she has saved the best until last but the number is spine-tingling beautiful, eliciting goosebumps.
Just when you think the show is coming to an end (even Salonga jokes that the end is never really the end) the audience is treated to two encores in the form of the smash hit This is Me, from The Greatest Showman and Whitney Houston’s Greatest Love of All.
Salonga certainly demonstrates that theatrical music concerts are not all stuffy and highbrow and are accessible and entertaining to all. She masterfully brings oodles of joy and a touch of Broadway to a small corner of the West Midlands. If this review has seemed to exhaust all available superlatives, it’s because Salonga is just that good. Salonga is 48 yet her voice sounds as rich and pure as it did when she was 18. She has an incredibly loyal fan base and is considered one of the Philippines most successful exports.
With only a handful of dates left until the conclusion of her tour, anyone who knows their Showman from their Saigon should get booking on the double!
Reviewed on 11 July 2019 and on tour | Image: Contributed