As we bid farewell to Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, there is no way that we are going to miss out on the opportunity to explore the amazing life and success of actress and singer Lea Salonga.
Born in the Philippines, Lea Salonga has been gracing audiences around the world with her powerful, pitch-perfect voice ever since she was 7 years old when, back in 1978, she starred in her first musical The King and I at the CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines). This year in 2021, she is celebrating her 43rd year in show business ever since that first performance and if we are being honest, she is likely one of the greatest performers of all time to hit Broadway.
Earning a wide range of awards and providing the highest-quality performances, Lea Salonga has been working wonders for Asian representation on stage in America and abroad while creating a true legacy for American theatre.
Many of us will instantly recognize Salonga’s voice when we hear Princess Jasmine singing in the 1992 Disney film Aladdin, with Salonga going on to provide the singing voice for Fa Mulan in the 1988 Mulan and 2004 Mulan II films. All three of these roles put her into the Disney Hall of Fame with a Disney Legend Award, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
In the world of theatre, Lea Salonga has earned the Olivier, Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Theatre World Awards.
The performance that earned her the illustrious Olivier Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical came in the form of the musical Miss Saigon in 1989 at England’s West End Stage in London where she played the lead role of Kim. When the musical moved to Broadway, Salonga was rewarded with her Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Theatre World Awards, becoming the first performer in the world to win that many awards for a single role as well as the first Asian woman to win a Tony.
Continuing with her pattern of breaking barriers, in 1992 Salonga became the first Asian woman to play the part of Éponine in Broadway’s Les Miserables and would later come back in 2007 to be the first Asian woman to play the role of Fantine in the same show.
All of this was going on while Salonga was also creating a timeless music career, since it was her vocals that made her stand out from everyone else. She became the very first Filipina music artist to be signed to an international record label, and all of that momentum continued to take her through the following two decades with more success.
2017 brought this magical performer back to Broadway once more in Michael Arden's 2017 Broadway revival of Once on This Island. For anyone who hasn’t seen her performing live, it is bone-chillingly beautiful with every vibration of her voice hitting the deepest parts of you. And even though watching online videos through a device isn’t quite the same, we can still hear the pitch-perfect vocals of a master.
The legacy of Lea Salonga in theater is more than her powerful voice and acting ability though. It is the fact that she was able to grow Asian representation for young and old people alike all over the world, giving us a role model to aspire to be, to be proud of, and to identify with.