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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Lea Salonga: The Human Heart
Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's review of Guys and Dolls


Lea Salonga
Photo by Raymund Issac
Lea Salonga is 48 years old but has accomplished a lot in a musical career that spans more than 40 years. She made her first musical appearance at the age of 7 in a production of The King and I in Manila and by the time she was 20, she'd already won the Tony Award and the Olivier Award for her role of Kim in Miss Saigon. Seven years later, she'd sung for two Disney princesses in the films Aladdin and Mulan and performed on the Oscar telecast. Salonga has gone on to appear in six Broadway productions, including the Tony-winning revival of Once on This Island last season, and has also performed in numerous musicals in her homeland of the Philippines. Salonga recently launched her "The Human Heart" tour and performed last week at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts in a superb concert that featured her excellent vocal skills and included many musical highlights from her career.

The sold-out audience was entertained throughout the two-hour long concert by both the soaring vocals of Salonga and her heartfelt stories and witty banter, which included informing us that the reason she was wearing sneakers and not moving too fast is because of a recent skiing accident in January when she injured her leg. Fortunately, that incident didn't impact her vocals, which delivered soaring versions of musical theatre classics and fun, upbeat covers of several pop tunes.

Salonga's vocal control is incredible in how she never faulters in her diction and ensures there is always clarity and precision in every word and note she sings, along with a neverending amount of power and warmth in her delivery. Her stage presence is heartfelt, personable, and full of charm and she managed to convey a clear connection with both the audience and her superb four-piece band.

The concert started with a strong take on "Feeling Good" by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley from the musical The Roar of the Greasepaint—The Smell of the Crowd and was followed by a gorgeous version of "Go the Distance" from the animated film Hercules. She followed that Disney movie song with another one from Mulan, "Reflection." She mentioned that not only was it an honor to sing for that character but how moved she was when she first saw herself reflected in the Asian character of Mulan, as it was the first time she'd remembered seeing an Asian female lead in an animated film.

She then sang a trio of pop hits, including an upbeat and heartful version of the Tracy Chapman classic "Fast Car" and a haunting take on Train's "Drops of Jupiter," which she dedicated to cancer survivors, saying that Train lead singer Patrick Monahan wrote it in honor of his late mother, who died of cancer. She followed this with a moving version of Carole King's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" which she said was her mother's favorite song, though she jokingly added that it wasn't one of her favorites.

The first act ended with two musical theatre songs that Salonga has sung numerous times on Broadway. First, "Human Heart" from Once on this Island, which she dedicated to all Filipino nurses, as she said it's a song about healing, received an impeccably touching performance, and then a soaring and stunning performance of "I'd Give My Life For You" from Miss Saigon. She said that didn't truly understand the meaning of the lyrics of that Miss Saigon song until she'd had a child of her own, many years after she first sang it in both the London and Broadway productions.

The second half started with two gorgeously sung classic show tunes, Stephen Sondheim's "Another Hundred People" from Company and, from Nine, Maury Yeston's "Unusual Way." Three more pop covers followed, including a stunning take on the New Direction hit, "Story of My Life" and a slowed down and incredibly moving version of the '80s A-ha tune, "Take on Me." These were followed by a sexy and sultry performance of "Blurred Lines," which Robin Thicke made famous.

"Burn" from Hamilton is a song Salonga said she was immediately drawn to when she first saw the groundbreaking musical, and her precise delivery of Lin-Manuel Miranda's lyrics highlighted her impeccable diction and her ability to instill each song she sings with clarity. She asked for a volunteer from the audience to sing the Aladdin duet "A Whole New World" with her, and the person she chose not only knew the song by memory but had a beautiful singing voice, and the two delivered a gorgeous version of the hit song that got a big round of applause.

Salonga played both Eponine and Fantine in Les Misérables on Broadway, and recreated her portrayals of those two characters, respectively, in the 10th and 25th anniversary concerts of the musical. She ended the concert with a pairing of the two solo songs those characters sing, "I Dreamed a Dream" and "On My Own," which were beautifully sung, ending the concert on a high note. Salonga returned for an encore of "You Will Be Found" from Dear Evan Hansen, a soaring and moving end to a stellar evening.

Salonga mentioned several times how gorgeous the Scottsdale Center for the Arts is and how happy she was to perform there, with a sound system that manages to make every word crystal clear and sightlines that give an unrestricted view of the stage from every seat in the theatre, acknowledging that it is clearly one of the best performance venues in Phoenix.

Lea Salonga: The Human Heart performed at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, May 17th 2019. Information on upcoming concerts at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts can be found at www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org.


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