I think it’s impossible for theater-lovers of my age not to have a huge place in our hearts for Lea Salonga. The back-to-back successes of Miss Saigon and Aladdin coming during my formative years (Saigon when I was in Junior High, Aladdin my freshman year of High School) made her one of my first diva obsessions. And yet to call Salonga a diva feels so false, since every performance or interview she’s ever given reveal her to be a hardworking actress of incredible talent paired with incredible humility.
Because she hasn’t been on Broadway lately, I’ll admit to letting my passion for her voice die down a bit. Sure, I spent $25 for an imported copy of the cast album from the international tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella that she headlined. But it wasn’t until I started trolling YouTube for material to share on Fuck Yeah Stephen Sondheim that I came across some really fantastic concert footage of Lea that I realized what I’d been missing. As great as she is embodying heroines both comic and tragic on the musical theater stage, Lea’s equally delightful telling stories and singing the songs that she loves.
So it was a happy surprise to discover that one of her recent (March, 2010) club dates was recorded for an album, The Journey So Far, now out on LML Music. I had recently asked the folks at LML if they’d send me some music to feature on Fuck Yeah Stephen Sondheim, and Lea’s album was part of their shipment. Her rendition of “Something’s Coming” will appear there later this week. But I am so taken with the album that I wanted to gush a little more here — and share this great medley of two of my favorite songs from the long-overdue-for-a-revival They’re Playing Our Song.
This track gives you a pretty good sense of the album as a whole. The four-piece band sounds fuller than their numbers imply as they ably support Lea, who sounds as youthful as she did in the late 80’s when she first burst on the scene. She has such a skill at interpreting songs that it’s tempting to call her style effortless, but that would be an unfair slight to the incredible craft on display. The album preserves just enough of her patter to have a sense of her charm without getting annoying on repeated listenings.
It’s high time for Lea to be back on Broadway. If all goes well, she should be in the 2012-2013 season with Allegiance. But in the meantime, I hope she continues performing in concert venues and clubs… ideally somewhere near me!