BWW Interview: Lea Salonga Talks Touring the UK
Lea Salonga sang the soundtrack to my childhood. As the voices of Princess Jasmine in Disney's Aladdin and the title character of Mulan, Lea lent her talents to two of the most iconic animated characters of the Nineties. She also debuted the role of Kim in Miss Saigon on the West End, and has portrayed both Éponine and Fantine on Broadway.
Lea returns to the UK this July for a six-stop concert tour. We caught up with her to ask for some teasers, get her take on the new Aladdin movie, and find out what she thinks of English weather and food...
Can you tease a little of what you'll be singing in the UK?
I'm definitely planning Saigon and Les Mis and Mulan and Aladdin. Because it's my first UK tour, it feels right that we start off with the "greatest hits", I guess. But then I'm rounding off the rest of the set with music that's just fun to do.
Do you like singing the hits? Or are you getting tired of it?
Thank goodness I don't get tired of it! Thank goodness there's always something fun and new to find in a lot of those songs. I mean, these are songs I've been singing for over 20 years now - with Éponine, it's definitely over 20 years, with Fantine, over 10.
So these are songs that I've gotten into my body and into my throat for sure. And I guess the older that I get, the perspective starts to change, and there's something new that lends itself to how the songs get interpreted.
It's nice to have the freedom of not being stuck to one particular interpretation - that I can just, you know, run with however I want to play it, while staying true to how the songs were written.
If someone had heard you sing, say, "On My Own" 10 years ago and then again this year, would they hear something very different?
I think it's less Éponine that they're going to hear, and more me as a human being. As far as the muscles and the singing of the song, it's pretty similar to what it's always been. But I guess the point of view starts to change a little bit...
Even though the words are the same and the melody is the same and it's all in the same key, maybe it's a different experience in my own life. It's kind of colouring the interpretation of that, even though the songs are 20 years old.
What kinds of experiences in your life have changed the way you approach a song like that?
When you approach a song like, for example, "On My Own", and you haven't really had a serious romantic connection with anybody - when it's not anything super deep - versus 10 years later, when all of a sudden it's like, now you're married, or now you're in a really serious relationship, or you have a child, it's coming from a far more real and far deeper place.
And even though I'm not in the show anymore, when I sing the song, it's like "Oh, that sounded a little more real than it used to". And it then becomes a little more fun to sing.
You also mentioned the Disney hits, and of course this year we have a new Aladdin movie. Have you seen it? What do you think of it?
I haven't seen it, but I've seen bits and pieces and trailers, and I've heard the new song by Alan Menken that Naomi Scott gets to sing. It's really nice that we see this evolution of that story, and that it seems a little more contemporary. I think the leads are absolutely gorgeous, I love that they cast Will Smith, and I'm sure that he put a very comedic, unique - his own - spin on his role. It's just very exciting!
A lot of my friends went in not expecting anything and coming out just loving it. So I'm looking forward to finally seeing it! It may be a while. Because life is busy, and my daughter is starting school on Monday, so I'll see it, I guess, when I see it.
How old's your daughter?
Do young women, or women who used to be young women, come up to you and talk about the impact that Jasmine or Mulan has had on them?
The thing about Mulan is that at the end of the movie, sure she has a romantic interest, but that isn't the be all and end all of her character. For her it was more important to save her country, or to bring honour to her family. It wasn't about "I'm gonna meet a guy, and we're gonna get married, and live happily ever after". Her happily ever after was a completely different thing. And her motivation for what she does is tied into her father and her family.
She is just such a courageous, very different character compared to a lot of the other Disney princesses. That seems to really resonate with me. That the be all and end all of one's life as a woman does not have to be being a wife and a mother. It can be whatever you want it to be. And that was something about Mulan that I really, really loved.
With regards to Jasmine, it's interesting that she was just feisty and outspoken and courageous, and she was a tough cookie! But she also had a heart that was open to romance, and that she fell in love with someone who was not in her station in life. Girl, that's pretty ballsy of you! Because in real life, that doesn't really happen.
Is there anything from those movies that you look back on and cringe?
Thankfully, no! I'm able to look at both of them and not feel like, "Oh my God, what did we do?!". You know? Thank goodness for that. There was a very contemporary sensibility to both those movies.
And whenever Robin Williams is on the screen as the Genie, I just end up laughing so much. And I loved every single celebrity impersonation that he did, and how the animators captured everything. And I want to hear the outtakes, what they weren't able to use. Because that was just comedy gold!
Are you excited to be touring the UK?
It's my first UK tour! I'm a fan of the UK except in the winter. It's wet, it's damp, it's bone-chilling - it is not fun! Winter in New York is far more tolerable because it's drier, which means that the cold doesn't really get into you.
Have you got anything that you absolutely must see, must visit, must do while you're here?
Probably have English food. There are people that are like, "Why?". But I do love fish and chips and mushy peas, I do love bangers and mash...pub food. Pub food with a beer! You know, steak and kidney pies. I'll probably have one, or all three, in rotation while I'm over there.
As for must see... One of my friends is in Hamilton now, so I want to go see her. I don't know what else is on my itinerary, so I'm probably going to have to ask the locals what's fun to do, where's good to eat, and then go from there.
Lea Salonga tours the UK 7-21 July