Exclusive: Asia's Nightingale Lani Misalucha Preps for Dec. 6 Concert; Picks Her Top Filipino Singers

Manila, Philippines--Pandemonium practically coursed through the private circles of Lani Misalucha loyalists the day a press statement officially announced the postponement of "La Nightingale Returns," the renowned singer's fourth major concert in Smart Araneta Coliseum since "Missing You" in 2007.

Originally scheduled for October 17 and reset to almost two months later to December 6, the sudden date change sparked speculations of Lani backing out of the concert, which she recently dispelled on a primetime talk show as mere rumors. There was never a backing-out involved as "the date change was due to production setbacks," Lani clarifies.

A month after the announcement, the outcry has finally waned, and with the days slowly dwindling into "La Nightingale Returns," BroadwayWorld.com revisits its latest exclusive interview with the Asia's Nightingale.

Lani, The Ultimate Fan's Dream Diva

There is an unmistakably thick veil of thrill and expectancy hanging in the air, as the condo suite doors remain deaf to Flo Manganaan's demure knocking. She doesn't know what kind of kooky pose her beloved Ate Lani would greet us in--a small group of four, which includes Ems Benedicto (another longtime fan), MJ Serafica the photographer, and this author.

Flo or Ate Flo-Flo, a term of endearment bestowed upon her by the Lani's Angels (Misalucha's official Philippine fan club, which Flo manages as club president), instantly fell in love with Lani's characteristically charismatic voice and stage appeal the first time she watched her first solo concert 13 years ago.

The moment the footlights of Smart Araneta Coliseum brightly burst into life that night, escorting Lani's smooth, confident easing into the initial bars of her opening number (an intricately engineered mashup of the film "The Fifth Element's" alien queen aria and Whitney Houston's "Queen of the Night"), Flo knew she was--to use her own words--"automatically" hooked.

"That's where it all began, 'yun na 'yung hindi na ako makatulog ng maayos. 'Di ko na siya makalimutan!" says Flo, fishing her mobile phone out of a customized messenger bag with a bold print of Misalucha's glamour headshot on it. Flo keys in a quick message letting Lani know we were at the door.

And just how, one might ask, did her initial personal encounter with Lani happen?

"Nakuha ko 'yung number ni Ate Lani sa youngest sister niya during a shampoo commercial shoot noong September 2001, and tinext ko 'yung number introducing myself, nagrereply naman siya. Nagulat nga ako eh. Since then ayun naging magtextmates kami hanggang I met her in person," Flo shares.

We heard a lilting female voice from the inside beckoning us to come in, Flo gingerly opens the door, revealing a comfortably clad, smartly coiffed Lani--looking cozy in a modest v-neck black sweater and casual blue jeans and sandals.

As she stood framed in the doorway--frozen in an animated beauty queen pose: left hand on the waist and right arm poised straight upwards; palm up, hand above her head (picture a hybrid of zestful prize showcase presenter Vanna White in classic "The Price is Right" and an awkward, sexy, goofy Sandra Bullock in "Miss Congeniality"), it seems a struggle to associate this comically unpretentious figure before us with the multi-awarded and internationally, critically-acclaimed class act.

With a slowly widening grin, she unfreezes, crossing the threshold to give her late-night visitors lightning quick, ninja-like combos of warm hugs and kisses.

"Nasa likod lang si Papa Nols. He's the official labandero for today!" she bursts out laughing, opening the laundry closet door and again--with a car showroom model wave of her arms--presents husband, Noli, busy at the clothes dryer, turning around to give an equally larger-than-life wave hello.

"Come in, come in!" she says, herding us in to take our seats in a comfortably minimalist and warmly-lit, metro-chic living room.

I launch into the first obvious question as we both take our seats facing one another--it's almost 11 p.m.--she and Noli are obviously tired from the day's travel, yet they still manage to accommodate friends and fans for a visit. So how does a Lani Misalucha actually define the lines between private and public life?

"l don't want to say that it's actually a problem--keeping my life private, I mean--but then again, l don't actually see any boundaries--any inhibitions between me and my fans or my angels--with you guys," she says in a matter-of-fact tone, nonchalantly gesturing to Flo and Ems.

"l see myself as an open book, and l think somehow parang alam na nila yun...Pero para sa 'kin, a fan is a friend talaga, you know? Hindi 'yung parang 'Hoy! fan ka, ito ako!'" she says, comically jutting her chin out and hoisting her shoulders backward (with matching hair flip), an impersonation of what can only be described as the long-suffering diva stereotype.

The Untapped Triple Threat: Talent, Passion, and Stage Charisma

"You just cannot sing a song just 'so-so'. Hindi lang pwede na ang lumalabas lang ay melody sa bibig mo. You really have to involve your heart to make the song effective," shares Lani on the emotionally packed repertoire of her latest Gold-certified studio album, "The Nightingale Returns," under her new label, Star Music.

"When you sing a song like 'Anak' or 'Paano,' you simply have to deliver it as dramatically as possible kasi ganu'n talaga dapat 'yun," she shares thoughtfully, revealing how much of her trademark stage flourishes and daring vocal trimmings, which include poignant humming interludes--a Whitney/Barbra-esque style of vocal harmonizing--involve a considerably huge portion of her heart.

"Pag drama, drama, 'pag funny, syempre you have to be really funny!" she points out, throwing her head back laughing, perhaps reminiscing her classic trend-setting concert repertoire, which then included local and international diva impersonations (complete with costume and impresario dance moves); remarkably theatrical takes on Filipino classics such as "Balut, Penoy"; and specially arranged covers of OPM rock anthems such as "Laklak," amplified into new heights of mania by a refined, operatic twist.

"You know, ako rin, even sa sarili ko, it's a song (Anak) that I find hard to listen to. You wouldn't realize right away that it's actually full of emotions," she says, turning a shade more somber as she explains the complex mechanism behind the powerful drama in her rendition of the immortal Freddie Aguilar song--whose narrative mirrors the struggles moralized in the parable of "The Prodigal Son."

"I've been a mother for so many years now, so all I am and who I have become through all those experiences, is what I bring into the song, lalo na ngayon there's a new addition to my family (grandson Joey). The song just takes on a whole new meaning..." she shares.

"Minsan ako, l don't want to listen to myself or watch myself sing kase parang sometimes 'na-aano' ako, pero listening to that song and listening to myself so full of emotions, it's really 'nakaka-ano' talaga, alam mo 'yun?" Misalucha reveals, visibly itching for the right words to enunciate how she feels while listening to her own recordings.

"Naiilang?" I tentatively offer up an adjective.

"Parang ganun," she says in deep thought.

Like Streisand--one of Lani's ultimate icons--it may just be a cool perfectionist lurking within her--the shadow of an idealistic hard-to-impress producer trapped in the body of an artist, who gets self-critical listening to her own recorded voice.

"I'm a co-producer. So mas marami akong involvement in this album (The Nightingale Returns), compared to the previous ones. Noon kasi, report lang ako--sa meetings, recording sessions, etc.--then tapos na," Lani shares on her experience as a first-time album producer.

"Pero ngayon, talagang nag-uusap kami ng producer ko, si Jonathan (Manalo). Talagang pinag-uusapan namin kung paano ang gagawin sa song; paano yung arrangement; kung paano ko i-ti-treat yung kanta," she continues in detail.

A Natural Thespian

Lani's face considerably lights up with indistinguishable nostalgia and interest when the topic of "The Bodyguard," the musical in London's West End, came up. Currently headlined by X-Factor UK's Alexandra Burke as Rachel Marron (a character immortalized on film by Whitney Houston), the hit musical--had it been produced years back--would have been such a perfect vehicle for Lani, who at one point in her career gained the distinction of being the Whitney Houston of the Philippines.

"Yes! If there's going to be a break that falls on my lap, and if it's really a good one, why not? But maybe towards the 'retiring path' of my career, that's when I'll look more into it," she answers when asked if she still sometimes thinks about delving back into musical theater, especially with the recent success stories of local Filipino pop artists crossing over onto the genre's international stage--the likes of Rachelle Ann Go (Miss Saigon) and Mark Bautista (Here Lies Love) come to mind.

"l'm not sure about it (musical theater) for now though. I mean, I cannot see myself doing it full-time, kase look at Rachelle (Rachelle Ann Go), I'm pretty sure sobrang hectic ang schedule niya with 'Miss Saigon'!" adds Lani, whose professional musical theater debut earned her an Awit Award Best Actress nomination for her stint as Sita in "Rama at Sita" in 2000--a performance that even prompted theater critic Mario Bautista of The Manila Times to write:

"Lani Misalucha is superb as Sita, with a sparkling voice really meant for the theater."

Lani's Eye for Great Talent--It Takes One to Know One

It seems surreal to look at what balladeer Jed Madela has so far achieved in his illustrious career when you look at it from the vantage point of a 12-year-old prediction made by Lani herself--who at that time was about to migrate to the U.S.--when she handpicked Madela as "the ONE to watch for" during her 2003 TV special, when asked by the host who she thinks will make it big among groups of up-and-coming young artists.

Lani knew better then, so why not give another prediction now?

"Ano ba yung prediction ko for now? Let me see, sa ngayon dahil nga natapos na yung 'The Voice Kids,' it could be Darren (Espanto)," she says thoughtfully after a brief pause, discriminately, mentally balancing the options.

"Kasi ibang klase talaga yung boses niya. Maganda siya sa mga slow songs, okay din siya sa mga fast. Mukhang versatile din naman siya kasi kahit fast 'yung song nakakanta niya ng maganda," she continues.

"'Yun ang nakita ko lang na, nakita ko na sa ngayon na pwedeng in the future--three years from now or four years from now--mas aangat pa," she continues on 13-year-old Darren, whose short list of musical inspirations and favorites include Misalucha herself.

"And then kung tatanungin mo naman ako sa favorite ko sa local sa male, it's Jed (Madela) pa rin; sa luma sorry ah (she laughs), it's Basil Valdez. Parang kakaiba talaga Basil Valdez. Ang sarap niyang kumanta," she adds embarrassedly, as if harboring a long-time schoolgirl crush on the singing legend.

"Sa babae, sa local, si KZ (Tandingan). Napakagaling ah, kakaiba siya, at least she didn't go with the flow. Nagveer-away siya dun sa norm. Sa medyo bagu-baguhan, si Morissette, Klarisse, yung dalawang 'yun. Maganda boses, maganda ang timbre," Lani continues.

Voice as Sweet as Wine, Changing Through the Passage of Time

"Let me see, yes I've been in Araneta in 2001, 2003, 2007. My gosh! Seven years na pala!?" she says, uncannily surprised at realizing how long it has been since her last concert at The Big Dome.

Lani is among those remarkably rare artists whose voices have managed to batten down the hatches and withstand the ravages of time and constant use, and if possible, even gaining a distinctly lusher texture while going at it.

"Somehow meron na talaga akong nararamdaman na difference. Ang voice mo is totally different when you are in your twenties. I think mas matinis ang boses ko noon. It was just so easy for me to reach those high notes then; and now I'm what, forty-five, really, I can actually hear and feel the difference now," she points out.

"Now, prior to doing a show, I really have to vocalize. Dati, keber kung kagigising lang. Bata pa eh. Siyempre iba talaga 'pag bata ka pa. Ngayon siguro napapansin niyo na mayroon na kong ibang placement ng boses na ginagamit para ma-accommodate ko pa rin yung ginagawa ko noon," she says, explaining how her placement techniques have evolved throughout the years.

With a considerably huge interval in years between her last (2007) and upcoming major Araneta concert on December 6 this year, Lani admits to still being nervous after all those previous performances.

"l know it's going to be the fourth one. You know l was thinking somehow na mayroon na nga 'kong anong tawag 'dun? Butterflies in my stomach?" she adds laughing, and with the days getting closer and closer, the number of butterflies may even perhaps multiply.

"Siguro 'yung buong concert is going be a big celebration, kasi just like what you said, this is going be the fourth one. Honestly, ang hirap i-top 'yung previous ones eh, 'di ba? Each time you're going to do it in the same place, the last one is really hard to beat. Alam mo mas higitan pa dapat," Lani confesses.

As the night ended, it slowly dawned on me that perhaps one needn't worry about Lani topping her first, second, or third Araneta concert. For a talent like hers, no amount of high-brow stage numbers and theatrical fireworks could even be as important as what she alone can bring to an audience the moment she steps on stage--live, pulsating, passionate fire.

Buy tickets to Lani's Dec. 6 concert at Smart Araneta Coliseum; call Ticketnet at (632) 911-5555 or visit ticketnet.com.ph.

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