Lea Salonga is one of the great vocalists of our time. The Tony and Olivier Award winner has put her unique stamp on some of the most well-known female roles on stage, while providing the singing voice for not one but two Disney Princesses, and that’s just part of what she’s accomplished. Lea’s once again heading out on tour (see dates and get tickets here), so I recently spoke to her about what to expect from her upcoming concerts and what goes into putting together her live shows.
She’ll be performing at San Diego’s The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park on Tuesday, May 17, and tickets are on sale now; visit the above link to get yours before the show sells out!
Brittany Frederick: You’re getting this tour started up again after, like many artists, having to change your plans because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Did that factor into your plans creatively, or have you stuck with the same tour plans you had originally? And what does it mean just to be back?
Lea Salonga: It’s pretty much the same idea. My shows are not overly complicated anyway. It’s pretty much me [and] four musicians get up on a stage. If there’s some lighting design, then that’s great. The house designer usually does audio for us and everything, so it’s really a simple setup.
I think the differences will be more mental and emotional—how everybody’s approaching doing these shows, because the pandemic has not been officially declared over and done with. There’s still a little bit of COVID to figure out and negotiate and be careful of. We’re excited. We’re nervous. We’re apprehensive. But we’re approaching it in the way that we always have.
BF: You have such a wide repertoire, from your own material to Broadway hits and Disney favorites. How do you decide what makes it onto your concert set list?
LS: We have a discussion. Me, my manager, [the] musical director—we all get together and suggestions are made, ideas are thrown out. Over the last couple of years, we’ve had this Google doc, and when the mood strikes or when one of us is feeling particularly industrious on any particular day, then we go into the doc and we see what’s currently on there and try to decide. “I don’t know if that’s appropriate anymore,” or “Oh, let’s do this and let’s try and see if we can cover this person or that person.” The Google doc became this living, breathing thing and it’s been quite the process.
There are things that people are going to expect. People will be like, “Oh, I hope she sings ‘Reflection,'” or “I hope she sings ‘On My Own’ or ‘I Dreamed a Dream,'” stuff like that. There will always be that component…but it’s nice that I have the room to add the songs that I just feel like doing. So how does something get added? How does something get subtracted? Sometimes it’s just how we feel on any particular day. I don’t think there’s any real method to the madness, because it’s an emotional thing. We decide with how we are feeling about certain things.
BF: Have you ever changed the way that you perform something? Wanting to try a particular song in a new way, or just wanting to mix things up a little for a live show?
LS: I tend to have more freedom with the stuff that I cover because then we have to have our own take. There’s really no point in doing something exactly the same way as Sara Bareilles, because that’s Sara Bareilles. If I’m going to do something, there’s going to be a little bit of a difference, just because I’m a different artist with a different aesthetic, and something will hit me in a particular way. And then there’s the input of the musical director as well—the person who’s going to be creating the charts.
I haven’t really been tempted to go in and overhaul my own stuff. But that said, I’ve done medleys of the stuff that I’ve done. I’ve had what I call the Cliffs Notes version of my career, where there’s “I Give My Life for You,” “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” “Reflection,” “A Whole New World,” and part of “The Human Heart” in one medley, so that people don’t feel that those songs are absent. For certain performances I have that, and so I have to sing certain songs in a different key, and then go from there.
BF: When you’re not on the road or in the studio, what are some of the other things you’re passionate about?
LS: I just literally started [the video game] Elden Ring, and it’s hard. It’s driving me nuts. (laughs) But my new favorite, aside from Assassin’s Creed Valhalla—which the saga is continuing, so I’m looking forward to [Dawn of] Ragnarok starting—is Hades. I sit cross-legged in front of the TV and I’ve got a video game controller in my hand. My daughter is also a gamer, but she plays on a PC; I like playing with the console. I just enjoy seeing everything on a big screen, and immersing myself in a whole different world, which can be a lot of fun.
I talk freely about BTS because I’m just the hugest fan. It’s not just the music or that they’re beautiful, but to see seven Asian men being as successful as they are—as an Asian performer, it makes me really happy.
Article content is (c)2020-2023 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr and on Instagram at @BFTVGram.