Filipinos are kings of creativity. When we were under Spanish rule and couldn’t speak out against our overmasters, we turned to song to express patriotic sentiments. When we were under Japanese occupation and condiments were scarce, we crafted banana ketchup to add some spice to our drab meals.
So it’s no surprise that Filipinos are also at the forefront of other things that require creative thinking and innovation, such as theater and music.
Lea Salonga, the first Filipino artist to ever set foot on the Broadway stage, is still renowned today for her exceptional musical talent. Ms Salonga played Eponine and Fantine in Les Miserables, Kim in Miss Saigon, and Mei-Li in Flower Drum Song, among other roles.
She is also known for singing some of the best-loved Disney movie soundtracks as well as providing the singing voices for the lead characters. She was Jasmine in Aladdin and Fa Mulan in both Milan movies. For these movies, she sang A Whole New World and Reflection, respectively. She was officially named a Disney Legend in 2011 for her endearing performances.
Ms Salonga’s portrayal of Kim has earned her not just the adoration of fans all over the world, but also prestigious awards such as the Tony, Olivier, and Drama Desk Awards. No other Filipino artist has ever achieved the same level of success that she had when she was in the height of her theater career.
This long-running love affair with theater began at age seven, when she was included in the cast for The King and I as staged by Repertory Philippines. She also played Annie in Annie, and later participated in a number of other musicale productions before trying out for Miss Saigon in 1989. This was her big break, and from then on Ms Salonga became a revered and respected name in the international theater industry.
Back home, Ms Salonga also made headway on her acting career. She starred in several homegrown movies of the romantic and comedic variety. She stayed in the Philippines for long because of her long-term engagements in both London and New York, but every time she is here she performs to a proud and adoring crowd of Filipinos. In between her music-related activities, she writes books and articles for publications here and abroad.
Today, Ms Salonga still keeps busy with music. Her latest stint was as a judge and coach in the Philippine version of The Voice, an international music competition franchise. Ms Salonga’s musical talent spills over to her coaching skills, as a member of Team Lea was crowned the first grand winner of The Voice of the Philippines.
Lea Salonga is the perfect example of the Filipinos’ incredible love for music. From a very young age, she has shown how far one can go with talent, dream, and dedication. Now other Filipinos are also following her footsteps straight onto the Broadway stage, with no fewer than four Filipinos bagging roles in the newest revival of Miss Saigon in London. Two Filipinos will alternate for the role of Kim, the very same one that Ms Salonga played when she was a fresh-faced 17 year old talent. The curtains will open March next year.