Lea Salonga, the Broadway Diva from the Philippines
We first knew her as a ten-year-old girl singing "I Am But A Small Voice" in 1981. With her sweet and tender music, the young Lea Salonga charmed a crowd of foreign diplomats who gave her a standing ovation. Two decades passed, and the young girl with a small voice blossomed into a fine lady who gave her nation pride and inspiration. Now at 31, Lea's voice has not only been the most heard, but also the most enjoyed, among Filipino performers. And her country is mighty proud of her because what she has become, as a "citizen of the world" (a phrase in her song), now represents a tale of achievement every Filipino mother tells her children.
Lea was born in Manila on February 22, 1971 to Feliciano Salonga and Ligaya Imutan. She has two siblings – Gerard and Sheila. As a young performer, she appeared in various television programs and joined several stage plays while studying elementary and high school at the OB Montessori, where she graduated with flying colors. In 1989, she auditioned and was accepted for the lead role in Miss Saigon, the multi-million-dollar production of Sir Cameron Mackintosh. During the audition, she sang "On My Own", a ballad from the musical play Les Miserables. Lea eventually got the part of Kim and moved to London's West End where she stayed for two years.
In London, Lea received the most coveted Laurence Olivier Award for playing the role of Kim. It was the start of a series of international awards that were about to come her way. When the musicale moved to New York's Broadway in 1991, Lea won the prestigious Tony Awards, Outer Critics' Circle, and Theater World Awards. Her stint at Miss Saigon also paved the way for bigger opportunities. The magnificent singing voice of Princess Jasmine in the Walt Disney animated production, Aladdin belongs to her. She became the first Filipino to have performed at the celebrated Oscar Awards, when she rendered the Disney song "A Whole New World" before Hollywood celebrities during the 65th annual event in Los Angeles.
Lea also had the chance to perform before the most prominent persons in the world. She was invited twice to the White House, first to sing in a social gathering hosted by former First Lady Barbara Bush, then to grace an occasion hosted by President Bill Clinton. While in England, she was invited to the Buckingham Palace to perform before Queen Elizabeth II. In 1993, she played the role of Eponine in the Broadway production of Victor Hugo's novel, Les Misérables. She went on to appear in the London and Honolulu productions of the same play whose music and lyrics were composed by the same people behind Miss Saigon: Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg.
In the words of Rosalinda Orosa, a writer on Filipino culture, Lea did something more than making Filipinos proud. "Lea has made theater history for Filipinos," says Orosa.