Lea Salonga: A whole new whirl in a new Broadway 'Les Miz'?

February 26th, 2013
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Let’s cut to the chase:
Lea Salonga sang a couple of tunes from “Les Miserables ”— the film that just picked up a couple of Oscars, including Anne Hathaway’s as Best Actress for the role of Fantine — when she performed Saturday night (Feb. 23) at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.
She did a shout-out to bid her aloha and goodwill to the film in the Academy Awards hoopla the following night.
She was speaking as a Broadway insider, having performed Fantine in the last revival of “Les Miz” on Broadway (2010) marking the 25th anniversary of the hit show, and Eponine in the 10th anniversary production of the show as well as in national touring productions, including a recent Honolulu run.
Salonga did not mention, even if she knew, that producer Cameron Mackintosh is reviving “Les Miserables” in a brand new production, slated to debut on the Great White Way in March 2014. This one will dispense with the turntable and rely on French art to set the visual mood of the original Victor Hugo tale about the French revolution, according to Mackintosh
That said, wouldn’t it be a delight if Salonga, the globally-known Filipina songbird, is among the assembled troupers in the re-imagined show? It's likely to be supported by legion of loyalists who’ve seen it and her on Broadway, as well as the newbies introduced to the scope and the score of the production via the Tom Hooper-directed film?
Surely, the likes of Hugh Jackman, who has played Broadway and earned a Tony (“Boy From Oz”), would make a terrific Jean Valjean on stage as he did on film, and if reunited on stage with Hathaway as Fantine for the upcoming venture, you’d have a dream cast.
Not likely to happen, as movie stars rarely get immersed in stage endeavors, particularly when it’s not a brand new attraction.
But Salonga, who is known to a generation of Disney princess followers via Jasmine in Disney’s “Aladdin” and Mulan in “Mulan” films, owes much of her success to theater. You recall, she originated the Kim role in “Miss Saigon,” copping a Tony in the process.
And yes, her voice is very much of an integral instrument and element of her talent.
In her Honolulu show, she sashayed from jazz to pop to musical theater, embracing standards and chart-toppers, with stellar musicianship from her conductor, Larry Yurman, supported by a coterie of five local guys who provided the perfect soundscape.
Of course, she shared “Reflection” from “Mulan,” giving the audience the full-on version that was modified when the film was released, and repeated her “A Whole New World” Jasmine anthem with a gent named Kwan selected from the audience to be her impromptu Aladdin.
Yes, he delivered, the crowd roared, and Salonga validated her faith in audience participation.
You could hear a pin drop, when she unwrapped “On My Own,” the powerful "Les Miz" staple, which didn’t need an introduction, and the Eponine tune brought out her intuitive nature as an actress-songstress. She confessed that while on a visit to the Disneyland campus earlier this year, she was saddened when word of the Newtown shootings emerged. She then selected the perfect and precise “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” also from “Les Miz.” I imagine there were many damp eyes in the house.
There was sunshine and warmth, too, on “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” and solemnity on her musical narrative from a show on Japanese internment she’s been promoting, “Allegiance,” perhaps eventually making the cut on Broadway.
Her journey included “I Have Been Changed by You” and “How Deep Is the Ocean,” not the usual fare you associate with her.
Then there was a precious “Grenade,” hurled with control and precision, and yes, an acknowledgement to our homegrown Bruno Mars, its singer and composer; if the tune has a second life as a “cover,” Salonga’s from a female perspective should be a natural.
Salonga proved she can groove and move, with Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You” (co-written by Bruno Mars) composition).
Only surprise and/or disappointment: Nary a note from “Miss Saigon,” Salonga’s ticket to fame.
If she presumed no one would be interested in that niche of her stardom, she’s wrong.
Maybe next time.

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