When it comes to legendary musical theatre performers, they don't get much bigger than Lea Salonga. As well as originating the role of Kim in Miss Saigon and playing both Eponine and Fantine in Les Miserables, she is also known for being the singing voice behind two Disney princesses in Aladdin and Mulan. Now, 2 years later than planned, she returns to London as part of a new UK tour. If you've ever seen Lea Salonga before, you know that her concerts are always special. If not, get ready to understand why seeing her live is an experience like no other.
For the London stop of her tour, Lea ticked off something on her bucket list by visiting the iconic Royal Albert Hall - a place she has always wanted to do a solo concert, having last performed there for the Les Miserables anniversary concert in 1995. While no Lea Salonga concert could ever be classed as substandard, there was a feeling that this night was going to be even more special than her other dates, with the atmosphere across every inch of the hall being electric.
For the setlist, Lea delivered some of the finest songs in the history of musical theatre from the classics to more recent ones. A particularly beautiful 'It's Quiet Uptown' from Hamilton was swiftly followed by a stunning 'For Forever' from Dear Evan Hansen while 'Somewhere' from West Side Story was surely up there as one of the finest renditions of that song. Her take on 'Maybe This Time' from Cabaret sounded more glorious than ever, performed with a full string section, while Lea's recent role in Once On This Island on Broadway was revisited on 'Waiting For Life'. Another highlight saw Lea recount the email she received from Stephen Sondheim following a performance she did on a digital concert for his 90th, followed by a beautiful medley of two of his finest songs.
It's not just musical theatre that Lea fills her shows with - her songbook is filled with electic and unexpected songs. Stunning versions of 'Photograph' by Ed Sheeran and the timeless 'Imagine' from John Lennon were among highlights, while I don't think anyone was prepared for Lea's sultry take on Britney Spears' 'Toxic'. They don't get more unexpected than what Lea chose to end the show with, geniusly getting the audience on their feet in a mass singalong of boyband classics from the likes of Backstreet Boys, Westlife and One Direction. I definitely didn't have Hanson's 'Mmmbop' on my Lea Salonga bingo card but it was joyous!
If you were waiting for Lea to sing the songs she is known and loved for, you had to wait a while. These songs finally appeared at the climax of the night in a greatest hits medley where all her best known songs were merged together in one intensely good megamix. There was no danger of feeling shortchanged by not hearing the songs in their entirety as Lea used this time for other treats related to those shows. A spine-tingling rendition of 'Bring Him Home' from Les Miserables had new poignancy as she paid tribute to frontline workers after she was asked to sing that song over lockdown, while a song Stephen Schwartz wrote for Mulan got a rare outing. Disney fans also got a treat as she channelled Moana in 'How Far I'll Go'.
Lea wasn't the only talented musician on that stage, with it fit to burst with incredible performers. A trio of phenomenal musical theatre stars joined her as backing singers with Adrian Hansel, Steph Parry and Sarah Galbraith providing beautiful accompaniment to Leas vocals, while her brother Gerard Salonga led a jawdroppingly good group of musicians ensuring every song performed sounded rich and powerful.
It's not just the vocals that make a Lea Salonga concert an unforgettable experience - it's Lea herself. Her instantly loveable personality, humour elevates her concerts to something that you very rarely get. Leas voice has a way of penetrating your heart, making you feel emotions not many singers can do, though at one point I did genuinely wonder if she was trying to kill me with her setlist choices (So many favourites in quick succession). At the very top of her game, this night was as special for me and the rest of the audience as it was for her. Undoubtedly, the best concert I've attended this year, let's hope it's not too long before we can witness Leas genius in the UK again.
Time After Time/Here You Go Again
Move On/Not While I'm Around
It's Quiet Uptown
Bring Him Home
Waiting For Life
Maybe This Time
Written In Stone
Happy Days Are Here Again
Greatest Hits Medley (I'd Give My Life For You/A Whole New World/Reflection/On My Own/I Dreamed A Dream/The Human Heart)
How Far I'll Go
Boyband Medley (Back For Good/Mmmbop/Tearin' Up My Heart/I Want It That Way/My Love/What Makes You Beautiful)
Lea Salonga continues her Dream Again tour in the UK until July 1st. Tickets from https://www.cuffeandtaylor.com/
Photos by Danny Kaan