Lea Salonga on THE JOURNEY SO FAR, ALLEGIANCE and Working with a Nashville Producer
Just over a year since she debuted her critically acclaimed cabaret act at New York's Café Carlyle (and only weeks after her 2011 stint at the same venue), Lea Salonga's new live CD - The Journey So Far - is set for release by LML Music/Allegro Distribution on Tuesday, August 9, giving her fans the world over a chance to hear her crystalline voice on a new recording, which was executive produced by Nashville's own Chris Keaton.
Working at Café Carlyle, she contends "is magical and so much fun. I love working with New York musicians. You're kind of vocally naked and working without a safety net under you when you're doing cabaret. And in the room is a really dignified, classy crowd who are so attentive to what you're doing."
"The Journey So Far is an introduction to who I am," Salonga suggests. "An introduction to what I've done. There are people who know the sound of my voice, so this is kind of a musical resume, a summary of my musical career."
Listening to the CD of The Journey So Far, the beauty and clarity of Salonga's exquisite voice comes through in this disc of her live performance at Manhattan's Cafe Carlyle... clearly, it's the next best thing to being there. Her performance of "I Have Dreamed" alone is worth the price of the CD, but it is so perfectly combined with a stunning list of other tunes that capture her artistry so vividly, that it guarantees this is a collection no musical theater lover can possibly pass up.
While Salonga's musical performance is unparalleled, the charming witticisms and showbiz memories, sprinkled like so many diamonds throughout her between-songs patter - delivered with perfect timing and just enough nuance to feel as if she's opening up her life to you and you alone - makes you feel as though the two of you have become intimate friends. And it's that combination of charm and her innate ability to connect with her audience (whether on CD, on the phone, in a nightclub or on a Broadway stage) that has won her legions of loyal fans throughout the world.
Salonga, the Tony Award-winning Filipina singer and actress, is best known for originating the lead role of Kim in the musical Miss Saigon (and for which she won the Tony, Olivier, Drama Desk Outer Critics and Theatre World Awards), will highlight the release of the CD with a worldwide tour throughout 2011-12.
Speaking by phone during her lunch break from rehearsals for Allegiance - the new musical by Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione now being workshopped ahead of its premiere at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre - Salonga chatted warmly and amiably about her career, her family, Allegiance and The Journey So Far.
"We wanted to make this recording and this show at Café Carlyle something very personal, touching on my life as well as my career," Salonga explains. "There are songs from my homeland, musical theater, film, and the jazz and pop worlds...this is more than just a recording; it's a memento, a lasting souvenir of this very special time in my life."
"I give credit to my director (Daniel Kutner) and writer for making the show as personal and as intimate as possible," she explains. "I didn't want anything to be generalized, everything had to be very specific to my life...those are the most fun stories to be tell!"
Among those many stories told during her act were her reminiscences about her mother, who by all accounts - and Lea certainly agrees - is a force of nature.
"I picked up the newspaper a few months ago and was reading about a typhoon that had her name - "Bebe" - that was threatening the Phillippines, and I thought, 'Oh my God, how appropriate is that?'" Salonga recalls. ""She's kind of a typhoon."
And while she gently pokes fun at her mother's protectiveness, she's just as quick to give credit to her mother for the lifelong support of her dreams.
"She's incredibly supportive of me and my brother (he's a conductor, a real genius). She blows into a room and she has a very strong personality, but she's also very sweet...kind of like a Tootsie Roll pop, very sweet and hard, but when you crack the outside to get to the center, you find it's really soft and chewy. That's my mom!"
Now working on Allegiance, the musical about the internment of Asian-Americans during World War II, Salonga is once again paired with Jose Llana, with whom she starred in the Broadway revival of Flower Drum Song, and works alongside some of the theater's best-known Asian performers including George Takei (who has recently helped challenge the Tennessee law that prohibits educators in the state's public schools from talking about gay issues).
"The story is told really, really beautifully. And as we've worked on the musical, the story has become tighter and it's really a beautiful and emotional show," she suggests.
The Journey So Far was recorded at the Café Carlyle with musical director Larry Yurman on piano, Jack Cavari on guitar, John Miller on bass, and Dave Ratajczak on drums, featuring such timeless classics as "My Romance," "Let's Fall In Love," "Someone To Watch Over Me," "Salamat Salamat Musika," "I Have Dreamed," "Something's Coming" and "There'll Be Time."
"Lea is the consummate entertainer and, in my opinion, one of the premier vocalists on the planet," says Chris Keaton, the Nashville music industry mainstay, who is executive producer of The Journey So Far. "Working on this project is a dream come true for me, especially being a Nashville based industry professional....Broadway/Nashville, who knew? I really do believe this recording will open new doors and introduce Lea to a 'whole new world' of fans."
Working with Keaton, whom Salonga called "such a southern gentleman," was "actually fun...but it was secondary that he was from Nashville, he was the right producer for this project."
So does this mean that her many Nashville fans might see her in Music City? "Hopefully, soon," she offers. "I've been told by many people that Nashville is a very exciting place to go if you are in the music business, that Nashville is the place to be if you're serious about music."
The Journey So Far is Salonga's 26th CD release (she began her recording career at the age of 10 with her first album, Small Voice).
Lea Salonga has been performing since she made her debut in The King and I at seven-years-old, taking on the title role in Annie at nine-years-old. Among many other theatrical productions (including the critically-acclaimed revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song), Salonga was the first Asian actress to play the roles of Eponine and Fantine in the musical Les Miserables on Broadway, and also provided the singing voices of two Disney "princesses" - Jasmine in the film Aladdin and Fa Mulan in the films Mulan and Mulan II, roles that are particular favorites of her daughter Nicole, a rambunctious kindergartener.
"Musical theater is a very unique art form and I was incredibly lucky when I auditioned for Miss Saigon at 17 - and I was 18 when I finally got to do it - but I was the exact person they needed to fill the role," she remembers.
But listening to recordings of her then 18-year-old voice gives Salonga the opportunity to compare it to the stylish cabaret vocalist she is today: "My voice now is not a reflection of my voice at 18," she explains. "My technique was poor then, because I didn't know what I know now. I listen and think, 'What do you think you're doing?' when I hear myself sing then."
So how does she keep her exquisite voice - one of my readers says that when he thinks of "pure voices in the theater" Lea Salonga is the first person to come to mind - in top shape? "I make sure I warm up before performances, of course," she says. "In rehearsals, you sometimes mark your performances to protect your voice, so that when the time comes and you must blast your voice out there, you're warmed up and vocally loose."
And to protect herself further she offers these suggestions: "Try to stay away from any liquids that are too cold; I drink a lot of room temperature water...a lot of it...to stay hydrated. I try to keep warm in cold weather, wearing hats and scarves. I never let sweat dry on my body and I try to get as many hours of sleep as possible.
"I try to stay true to what my doctors tell me, what my voice teachers tell me to do, and I take a lot of vitamins and try to stay as healthy as possible."
Staying healthy with a child in kindergarten is sometimes a challenge, she admits. "Those germs that come out of a kindergarten classroom are so potent," she laughs. "It's ridiculous the strength of those germs my daughter brings home. If she comes home with sniffles, I automatically assume I will get sick."
In addition to her roles on Broadway, Salonga has starred in many theatrical productions in the Philippines and the Pacific Rim countries and continues to tour worldwide. She has performed with the likes of Harry Connick Jr., Michele Lee, John Lithgow, Jeff Daniels and Russell Watson, and is active in such Broadway organizations as the Broadway Artists Alliance, Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS and The Actor's Fund. Salonga received a Presidential Award of Merit from Philippine President Corazon Aquino.