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A Lea Salonga Interview


US ASIANS: Acknowledging that “I (you) go for parts when my gut tells me to do so, because there is going to be a purpose in learning that part – If I’m successful, that’s great. If I’m not, at the very least I’ve learned more about the process and have more respect for the work” – what productions (see below) during your theatrical career in the Philippines provided the greatest opportunity to learn?

Filipino Theater: Baby, Team Image Entertainment's Grease (Sandy), Into the Woods (The Witch), Baby,
My Fair Lady (Eliza), The Fantasticks (Luisa), Paper Moon (Addie), The Bad Seed (Rhoda), The Goodbye Girl,
The Sound of Music (Brigitta), Annie (Annie), The Rose Tattoo, They’re Playing Our Song (Sonia), Proof,
Fiddler on the Roof, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof and Repertory Philippines/King and I at the age of 7 (One of the children)

LEA SALONGA: It's mostly the adult parts that I had a more active hand in selection. The one show in which this really showed itself was in "They're Playing Our Song," It was the first time that I played someone my age, and someone who was in a similar stage of life: organized career, messy personal life. I won't go into much detail, but suffice to say, it was a cathartic period of my life.

US ASIANS: In retrospect, what were the long-lasting purpose and the strategic career things you’ve learned from participating in trail-blazing roles/productions such as Flower Drum Song/Mei Li, Miss Saigon/Kim and Les Misérables/Esponine?

Marian Liu Interview on Diversity
Marian Liu: After your roles in ``Mulan'' and ``Flower Drum Song,'' do you feel pigeonholed for only Asian parts?

Lea Salonga: I would like to think that I am not pigeonholed, but with the exception of Eponine (in ``Les Misérables''), all the roles I have done in the States have been Asian or half Asian. It's a shame. Friends look at me and say, `You don't look Asian,' or `You don't look Filipino.' Well, I am. . . . I can get cast as anyone and anything, provided that I can sing the stuff and act the type. So it's a little bit weird for me to find myself just up for Asian roles. Send me out for what I can do, not just what I look like.

Marian Liu: How difficult is it for Asians to break into theater?

Lea Salonga: In theater, you're a little further away than in movies or on TV. You can hide stuff. I mean, I played a French waif in the middle of Paris. My mission was to be the best I could and make the audience believe I was that person, and completely not me. I think I did OK. Nobody ever said: ``Who's that Asian chick in the middle of Paris?''
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LEA SALONGA: Miss Saigon was simply the biggest break of my career, and an opportunity I couldn't afford to miss. It was a once in a lifetime chance, and I took it. Les Miz was for me to prove (if not to anyone else, then to myself) that non-traditional casting works, if only more producers gave it a chance. Flower Drum Song was a show that showcased a full Asian cast (everyone one stage were Asian, or half-Asian... it was a bonding experience for us). There was something special about each of these shows.

US ASIANS: What factors in your late teens-early 20s that prompted you to being an actress on stage as career – as opposed to an “after-school hobby?”

LEA SALONGA: It happened at one mass my mother and I were attending... the priest's homily was simple and straightforward: "Every one of us was given gifts from God... use your gifts to the best of your ability." That was that. I knew that from then on, this would be my calling, my vocation, my life. Not a bad life.

US ASIANS: Recognizing your thirst to keep growing as a performer, what element(s) are your main focus at this point in considering which theatrical productions to participate in?

LEA SALONGA: I take a lot into consideration... the music, my co-workers, how much fun it's going to be. If it isn't going to be fun, never mind.

US ASIANS: Could you describe how performing in “Miss Saigon” provided the opportunity to participate as the singing voice of Jasmine in Disney’s “Aladdin?”

LEA SALONGA: I was performing in Miss Saigon on Broadway when I got a note from Aladdin's casting director, Albert Tavares. He said that he was looking for me, and to call him about this audition for a new Disney animated film. I called... auditioned... and that was it.

US ASIANS: Is the opening night of Miss Saigon still your most memorable night in your theatrical life?

LEA SALONGA: It probably still is... there's nothing like it. I don't think any other opening or party I've attended quite lived up to it. I only wish that I was older when it happened; I would have enjoyed it more.

US ASIANS: In addition to your Les Miserables concert in London/”Hey Mr. Producer” concert, what were your most memorable performance(s)?

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LEA SALONGA: I don't know... can't think of any off the top of my head. A lot of performances were memorable for whatever reason, but I can't list them.

US ASIANS: Could you share the experience of playing non-Asians characters (i.e. Fiddler on the Roof/Jewish, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Grease/Sandy, My Fair Lady/Eliza, etc.) to a Filipino audience – acknowledging that they are among the hardest to people to please?

LEA SALONGA: It's just like playing any other role. The thing about a Pinoy crowd is that they're discerning, given that there are so many other wonderful singers and performers out there. What I do is nothing special in comparison because we're so many doing this same thing. That's probably what makes a Pinoy audience difficult to please.

US ASIANS: What are the personal and/or creative reasons why you would love the opportunity to participate in roles such as Evita’s Eve Peron, Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes, Elphaba in Wicked and Polly in Crazy for You?

LEA SALONGA: They just look like fantastic roles, stuff that would be fun to do. That's it.

US ASIANS: In addition to proving to many that a non-Asian character could be played by an Asian/Filipino, why was “Eponine” a favorite role of yours?

LEA SALONGA: I just fell in love with her story... it's the tale of unrequited love. Dramatic and romantic. Who wouldn't fall for that?

US ASIANS: Do you play the roles different because the audience are not Filipino and because it was performed in the Philippines?

LEA SALONGA: Nope, I play a role as honestly as I can, regardless of the audience.

US ASIANS: Could you share more details on your possible participation in the upcoming East West Players production of Imelda with Nathan Wong as the music director? (Note: He extends his greetings and welcomes the opportunity to work with you.)

LEA SALONGA: I won't be participating in the show... my reasons are personal. As a child, I've performed for the Marcos family on numerous occasions for visiting heads of state and for private functions at the Palace. Because I know the family, I've declined to participate. I do wish East West Players the very best though. I also have pending commitments out of the country at the same time.

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US ASIANS: What was the most poignant experience related to your participation to David Henry Hwang’s “Flower Drum Song?”

LEA SALONGA: Just that it was an all-Asian cast of actors, singers and dancers; that I was working with David Henry Hwang; and that I would be singing some of the most beautiful music written for musical theater.

US ASIANS: You’ve stated that the current edition of Flower Drum Song tries to address a question that pervades today’s society – what does it mean to be an American? Do you feel that audiences successfully received David’s entire message?

LEA SALONGA: We did the best we could. I don't know that we addressed every single issue, and don't think that we would have been able to. It's a complicated thing, finding your identity in a new country.

US ASIANS: Do you feel that the new version of Flower Drum Song took full advantage of updating and correcting Asian American stereotypes – despite calling the Chinese Opera house becomes Club Chop Suey – a dish that was entirely made-up by non-Asians/Americans?

LEA SALONGA: I think David did what he set out to do, as one who is Asian-American and growing up in this country, and as a playwright. It's tough though, taking a show that was beloved in its former state, and taking it and turning it around to mean something different and new. These are questions that he would probably answer far better than I could.

David Henry Hwang's Thoughts on Flower Drum Song Updating Asian American Stereotypes
Lea and David Henry Hwang
US ASIANS: Do you feel that your new version of Flower Drum Song was able to update and correct Asian American stereotypes often perceived within the general public - despite calling the Chinese Opera house becomes Club Chop Suey - a dish that was entirely made-up by non-Asians/Americans?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I think, at best, a theatre piece can only go so far in updating and correcting stereotypes. If the audience enjoyed the show and related to the characters, then we helped advance the status of APAs (Asian Pacific Americans) by one small step.

To read more about David's thoughts about Flower Drum Song, read his interview by clicking HERE

US ASIANS: Do you feel that most people appreciated or understood David Henry Hwang's version of the themes of C.Y. Lee's original novel - cultural assimilation, the relationship between generations and the struggle to become authentically American without abandoning traditions.

LEA SALONGA: I think a lot of people took away a beautiful show... I don't know how many people in the audience were aware of C.Y. Lee's book, and how David's version differed from it. David says his version is more faithful to the spirit of the book compared to the original Broadway show.

Lea's Broadway Friends - Liz & Andrea
US ASIANS: How do you feel the conflict between an old-world Chinese girl named Mei-Li and a sexy, completely assimilated woman named Linda Low is treated in the newest version?

LEA SALONGA: The conflict isn't so much between them per se, as it is with Ta. He doesn't want to fall for a girl from the old country, but the girl from America doesn't feel for him the way he feels for her.

US ASIANS: Do you feel that David Henry Hwang’s successfully captured the themes of C.Y. Lee's original novel - cultural assimilation, the relationship between generations and the struggle to become authentically American without abandoning traditions in the new production?

LEA SALONGA: I think David did a pretty good job. It's not an easy theme to bring to the stage, all the while presenting fabulous musical numbers as well.

US ASIANS: You’ve mentioned that "It's (David Henry Hwang’s ‘Flower Drum Song’) a very important show for Asians and Asian-Americans, who have the obstacle of assimilation into this country, where Asians seem to still be considered foreigners." What do you feel needs to be done to address this situation and what role does this production in accomplishing the above-listed statement?

LEA SALONGA: I think we all need to look to the experiences of every immigrant's story of coming to America. There is always that feeling of being a foreigner in one's own country. It may take a few generations for assimilation to fully take place.
Read about music by clicking HERE
Review the many elements that make Lea a star professionally and personally

Family History
Gerard Salonga
Mariya Barreto
Personal Life
Words of Advice

Catholic Documentary

Faith and Prayer
Lea's Prayer
Lea on Prayer

Current Status of Diversity
David Henry Hwang Views
Filipino Pride
Influx of APA Talent
Marian Liu Interview

Mulan's Diversity

Problems Obtaining Roles
Role Models
Perceptions - Past/Present/Future
Supporting APA Organizations
Yellow Ceiling

Boyfriend / Fiance / Husband
Diane Monique LHuillier
Introduction to Robert
Lasting Memories
Lea on Romance
Life Being Married
New Baby
Wedding Day

Charity Work
Lea's Charities

Career Goals
Flower Drum Song
Memorable Performances
Selection of Roles

2005 Tour Dates
Favorite Roles
Musical Theater
Old School Singing
Richard Jay Alexander

Film Career
TV Experiences

Film & TV (Actress)
Film & TV (Herself)

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