[Review] Lea Salonga Sings With Her Heart on Her Sleeve

lea salonga concert

Lea Salonga in Concert

22 May 2015

Esplanade Concert Hall

Run: 22-23 May 2015

“It’s ok if you don’t understand a single word,” assures Salonga before a medley of Filipino songs, “we as a people wear our hearts on our sleeves.” With a programme comprising pop songs, jazz, Disney, and show tunes, there is undoubtedly a lot of heart in her renditions.

From the opening jazz number, Feelin’ Good, she makes her approach to the songs clear. Rather than taking this opportunity to pull out all the stops and belt it out in its full jazzy glory, she decides to sing it straight—no frills, just music.

She lets the effort and ingenuity of the composers, lyricists, and the arranger (who happens to be her brother, Gerard Salonga) do the talking. And she backs them up by displaying an exquisite sense of control and technique.

She moves across various registers effortlessly—her high notes are not shrill but really powerful while every word can be heard when she sings in the lower register. She sustains her long notes very well while colouring it with a gorgeous vibrato. With such skill, who needs to engage in vocal gymnastics to prove a point?

Despite her straightforward approach, she does not lack in showmanship. While the concert hall has seen grand recitals, Salonga’s candour and personality turns the sizeable space into an intimate one. Despite her fame, she is open with anecdotes from her personal life and has no qualms about teasing her brother. No shout-out from the audience is left unanswered. In fact, she encourages it and one lucky chap, Kim, got to be Aladdin for the night in A Whole New World.

One of the highlights has got to be songs from Les Misérables. Having played Eponine and Fantine, singing One My Own or I Dreamed a Dream would be a natural choice. Being a crowd-pleaser, she sings a medley of both songs. Being familiar with the songs, I thought it would be quite difficult to merge them without an abrupt break. However, that is where the brilliance of music director Gerard Salonga comes in as the transition felt natural and well chosen.

Aside from pleasing the crowd, I realise that putting both songs together should be a natural choice. Both characters are roughly about the same age when they sing their respective songs and they are about lost loves. While Fantine is utterly dejected by the end of her song, both girls still dream about having their men by their side.

It is such a beautiful coincidence that my first introduction to Salonga is through the 10th Anniversary concert DVD and now, the Salongas—both Lea and Gerard—have given me a renewed appreciation of the musical.

Despite listening to a slew of crowd favourites, what really got to me was Mr Bojangles. Salonga prefaces the song by sharing an anecdote about young Robin Williams being a mime at Central Park, New York. Days after his death, his friend who was his fellow mime then wrote a touching tribute. While I was hoping that she gave her own personal anecdote of Williams, her soulful rendition of the song really got me in knots. All I could think of was: please Mr Bojangles, just one more dance?

Clearly, Salonga’s artistry does not just lie in her singing but also in the way she plans her programme and introduces them.

The lady sitting beside me, who unfortunately decides to sing along with Salonga for a quarter of the programme, remarks that Salonga is mesmerising. While I cannot agree with her singing, I wholeheartedly concur with her opinion.

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