Lea Salonga: Reflections on Her Journey (And Ours)
BY Winston Gieseke
October 03 2011 11:00 PM ET
Lea Salonga has the makings of a major gay icon. Not only has the Broadway star wowed audiences around the globe with her performances in just about every musical theater gem from Annie to Flower Drum Song, she has also provided the singing voice for two Disney princesses — Jasmine in Aladdin and the title character in Mulan. In addition, she has triumphed over traditional casting barriers by becoming the first Asian actress to play the roles of Éponine and Fantine in Les Misérables on Broadway.
Having grown up in the theater — she made her professional debut at the age of 7 —Salonga has been working with gay folks for as long as she can remember and has been very vocal in her support for LGBT equality, both here and in her native Philippines.
Her new live album, The Journey So Far, takes the listener on a
wonderful musical tour of her professional and personal life, from her
beginnings as a young girl with a big voice who recorded her first album
at 10 to mass recognition for her role as Kim in the original London
and New York productions of Miss Saigon.
The Advocate: The Journey So Far is a really fun record with some incredible music. What came first — the song list or the show’s narrative structure?
Lea Salonga: The music always comes first and then we build around that. After selecting songs, the script is written, and whatever doesn’t fit in the flow gets thrown out or put on the back burner for another show. “Poker Face” was thrown around for both my cabaret stints but never got in. Maybe next time! It’s fun to sing it.
On the album you do a funny impersonation of Eartha Kitt. Who are your favorite gay icons?
I love Barbra Streisand. Given the number of impersonators that are doing her on a regular basis, I don’t know that you can get gayer than that!
You were an enthusiastic tweeter after the marriage equality victory in New York. What was your first exposure to LGBT people?
I was about 6 years old and working on my first show. Both the musical director and director were gay. Plus I have a [gay] half-brother — who’s far more feminine than I could ever hope to be — an uncle, an aunt, and a few cousins, so I don’t remember ever having a prejudice against LGBT people. They were always just regular people. “Gay” didn’t even enter the conversation until I was old enough to understand what that meant.
As a wife and mother, what’s your response to people who fear that same-sex marriage will destroy traditional marriage?
Oh, please ... I think straight people are doing a fine job of it already! Gay people pose no threat whatsoever. I mean, let’s think about it: There are blended families, interracial families, single parents — not to mention the dysfunction we see on reality TV. I actually think gay families will lean toward the more conservative and traditional. Talk about irony.