There are not many names as big as Lea Salonga in musical theatre. After all, she is Fa Mulan, Princess Jasmine – and Miss Saigon! Seeing Salonga live in concert is the honour and envy of any and every musical theatre fan, and I’m thrilled that this dream of mine finally came true.
Speaking of dreams – the name of the tour is, fittingly, Dream Again Tour. Fun, feel-good and fabulous, it was a celebration of life – and escapism from the horrors of the real world (during the interval, the news about Roe v. Wade came in).
Salonga’s voice is clear as crystal; her enunciation is sublime. She floated around the stage like a gorgeous Goddess – or, more a gracious girlboss – with an effortless, ethereal energy.
She sang a mix of pop songs and musical tunes, and she blended them brilliantly. It was an overdose of emotion – every emotion – yet it never felt messy. Indeed, I was overcome with emotion, but never overwhelmed.
The stage was beautiful and grand. There was a whole set – simple, sparkly and sophisticated, like Salonga, herself.
The show began with an overture, before Salonga came onstage to sing the tour’s title song. It was a glorious introduction that set the tone for what was to come. She then went gay – like, full gay – with a medley of Cyndi Lauper‘s ‘Time After Time’ and Dolly Parton‘s ‘Here You Come Again’.
This was followed by another medley, this one in honour of the late, great Stephen Sondehim. It was made up of ‘Move On’ (Sunday in the Park with George) and ‘Not While I’m Around’ (Sweeney Todd).
She then offered a beautiful rendition of ‘That Would Be Enough’ from Hamilton. Arguably the most heart-wrenching song in the musical, it took me right back to when I watched (and cried my eyes out at) the musical (especially this song) back in April. Salonga’s cut-glass vocals made the song even more soul-stirring. We heard every last word loud and clear – each more painful than the lost.
This was followed by ‘For Forever’ (Dear Evan Hanson), Ed Sheeran‘s ‘Photograph’, and John Lennon‘s ‘Imagine’. The last song of the act was ‘Bring Him Home’ – one of the most popular songs from Les Misérables – which she dedicated to frontline workers during the pandemic. It was a powerful end to the act.
The interval was marred by Roe v. Wade, but the second act was so magical that I somehow forgot about the horrifying news.
Salonga opened the second act with ‘Waiting for Life’ from Once on this Island – she played Erzulie in the first Broadway revival, though this song is performed by Ti Moune (the main character) and Storytellers. This was followed by the similarly themed ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story – another Sondheim musical.
The concert then shifted tonally, with Salonga covering ‘Maybe this Time’ (Cabaret) – granted, another song about dreaming and yearning, but much more desperate.
Salonga then finally addressed the inevitable: she is the singing voice of two Disney princesses. She began talking about Mulan, but whilst we were expecting her to sing ‘Reflection’, she actually sang ‘Written in Stone’ – an unused demo which was sent to her before she took the role. It was disappointing not to hear ‘Reflection’ but exciting to hear her sing the original ‘Reflection’ (so to speak).
Then, the unthinkable happened: Salonga covered Britney Spears‘ ‘Toxic’. Unlike other musical theatre icons, Salonga does not take herself too seriously; she’s not afraid to have fun – even if her idea of fun insults cultured elitists.
Sure enough, she made a return to convention, not to appease the elitists (in all honesty, the whole audience loved ‘Toxic’) but simply because she is a varied, versatile and vivacious performer who likes to dabble in a bit of everything. She sang ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ – a 1929 standard that appeared in the 1930 film Chasing Rainbows, was the campaign song for Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s 1932 presidential campaign, and has been interpreted by various artists (most noticeably, Barbara Streisand – but Salonga, too).
After this, Salonga finally addressed the elephant in the room: she had not sang any of her famous songs. There did not appear to be enough time to sing them all now, so I was wondering which one it would be. To my delight, it was all of them, all wrapped up in the most marvellous medley. I then recalled somebody mentioning she sang a medley of her greatest hits on social media.
She blitzed through the hits, beginning with ‘I’d Give My Life For You from Miss Saigon. Miss Saigon is the musical that boosted Salonga to musical fame. She originated the lead role of Kim aged just 18, winning an Olivier for her wonderful performance in the West End, before transferring to Broadway and becoming the first Asian to win a Tony. Problematic, it may be, but it’s also, quite possibly, my favourite musical.
This was followed by her duet with Brad Kane, ‘A Whole New World’ – the Academy Award, Golden Globe and 2 x Grammy Award-winning signature song from Aladdin (the single version by Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle won a further Grammy out of 2 nominations). ‘A Whole New World’ was the first Disney song to reach number 1 on the US charts – and the only one until this year’s ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ from Encanto. It is one of the most iconic Disney songs of all time – up there with Frozen‘s ‘Let It Go’ – and it was an honour to see one of the two original singers perform it live.
It was a shame that she did not sing the song in its entirety, especially because a convention of her concerts is calling up a male audience member to sing the song with her.
The medley then made its way to Salonga’s other Disney hit: ‘Reflection’ from Mulan. Whilst the song is immediately recognisable, it is known, in part, for being Christina Aguilera‘s debut single – and though it was not a hit, it helped secure her a record deal, and her following single was her breakthrough: ‘Genie in a Bottle’.
This song garnered a huge applause from the audience. It clearly touched a lot of their hearts.
When the dazzling Disney section came to an end, we braced ourselves for a new feeling: misery.
‘On My Own’ and ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ from Les Misérables are a pair of musical theatre classics; the latter is one of the best-known musical theatre songs of all time. It would have been amazing getting to see Salonga sing them period, but knowing the history made it all the more poignant.
Salonga actually chose ‘On My Own’ as her audition song for Miss Saigon – she sometimes credits it as the starting point of her international career.
There’s more: Salonga is the first Asian actress to play Éponine (‘On My Own’) and, later, Fantine (‘I Dreamed a Dream’) on Broadway. Her casting made history, and it was a privilege to bear witness to her addressing her achievement.
The final song of the medley was ‘The Human Heart’ from the aforementioned Once on this Island. Whilst her rendition of ‘Somewhere’ was sublime, this was superior, if only because it is the song that she actually sang in the stage musical.
Whilst it was a shame to not hear Salonga sing these songs in their entirety – can you imagine going to see Shakira in concert and her not singing full versions of ‘Whenever Wherever’, ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ and ‘Waka Waka?’ – I guess she wanted to mix things up. It must get tiring and boring having to sing the same set of songs at every concert, so confining them all into a 6-minute medley was refreshing. It was also thrilling to be taken on a magical, musical journey of Salonga’s incredible career and tremendous hits.
Surprisingly, this was not the end of the set. No, that was a cover of BTS’ ‘Dynamite’ – of course!
The encore began with Salonga telling us that whilst she voiced two Disney princesses, she often covers other Disney songs; she even mentioned ‘Let It Go’. The song she chose to bless us with, however, was ‘How Far I’ll Go’ from Moana – one of my all-time favourite Disney songs. Her voice suited the song perfectly – I mean, her voice suits every song (and everything) perfectly; I’d gladly listen to her sing the phonebook, or the dictionary, or the Bible, or even Atlas Shrugged (too far?) – but this song, in particular, sounded like it was made for Salonga, as opposed to Salonga making a song work for her (albeit, effortlessly).
Whilst this would have been a fitting end – especially because the lyrics arguably relate to Salonga’s life and her “making it” – Salonga is not your typical darling of musical theatre.
No – she chose to end the set with a boyband medley, made up of Take That‘s ‘Back for Good’, Hanson‘s ‘MMMBop’, NSYNC‘s ‘Tear’ Up My Heart’, Backstreet Boys‘ ‘I Want It That Way’, and ending with – oh, gosh, I can’t even believe I’m writing this, let alone Salonga sang it – One Direction‘s ‘What Makes You Beautiful’.
However, that’s what makes Salonga beautiful – not only is she epically effortless; she’s entirely unbothered!
Lea Salonga’s Dream Again Tour is almost at its end; she plays the last date at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on 1st July.