Lea Salonga on Voicing Disney Princesses and Her Journey to Broadway
She made her debut as Kim in Miss Saigon on Broadway in 1989, and quickly rose to fame as the first Asian woman to win a Tony Award and as a legitimate Disney princess, taking the singing roles of both Mulan and Jasmine in their respective animated features.
What can you tell us about your upcoming show in Hong Kong? The shows that I tend to do in Hong Kong are a mix of musical theater and Disney, because I’ve been a couple of Disney princesses in my lifetime. It’ll be a repertoire of my favorite Disney songs, and some contemporary musical theater, like pieces from Les Mis and Hamilton.
Do you have a favorite role so far? Whatever I happen to be doing at that time becomes a favorite, and that character becomes really close to my heart. I love all of them—there’s always something in each of them that I’m able to relate to, or find catharsis in.
How do you keep finding challenging projects to do? I tend to follow my gut. If it feels good in my gut, then it’s something I’m able to wholeheartedly dive into. After Hong Kong, I’ll be doing [Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s musical] “Fun Home”—as soon as I saw the show, I was totally floored. It doesn’t have a huge cast, or a big bombastic orchestra. But a lot of the moments are very quiet and powerful.
You were recently in “Allegiance” with George Takei on Broadway. How was that experience? Fun! It was a predominantly Asian cast with an Asian-American creative team. It was written by Asian-Americans, starring Asian-Americans, about the Japanese-American internment in World War II. So you have all these Asian people with Californian accents singing and dancing. We knew it was going to be groundbreaking for the Asian-American community. It felt extremely fulfilling to be a part of it.
Do you think there are more opportunities for diverse performers in theater now, compared to when you started? I think so. I think it’s a matter of keeping at it, and being persistent. Broadway is incredibly diverse, and seems much more able and ready to take chances on stuff like this. I’m hoping more such stories are developed and told. The American experiment is still ongoing, and a lot of the stuff that would not be possible in other countries is happening in America.
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How do you balance an international career with raising a family in Manila? For me, I go where the work is. So if there’s work in New York, and if it’s an opportunity that looks like it’s going to be long-lasting, then we up and move. It has its share of sacrifices and hardship, but it is what it is. But when I do go to New York, it doesn’t feel like I’m visiting, it feels like I’m going home.
Being able to travel around Asia must be pretty exciting as well. I love getting to travel and perform in so many different places. It hasn’t gotten old. I’ve made so many visits to Hong Kong to sing with the same orchestra—this will be my third run of concerts with the Hong Kong Phil. The orchestra is incredible and my husband and I always turn it into an eating trip.