Tuesday, August 11, 2009



Sir Cameron Mackintosh, the famed producer of Broadway and West End musicals, was frustrated. He and his team searched the entire United States and London for actors and actresses who would be part of their latest musical production. They had less that a year before their project opened but the roles were still unfilled.

Claude Michel-SchÖnberg, a composer of the award-winning musical Les Miserables suggested that they go to the Philippines to find the right person for the demanding roles of his new opera. He believed that their search would be a success because for him, there was nothing like Filipino talent.

In late 1988, Manila newspapers ran an advertisement that announced the search for the leading role for a new musical called Miss Saigon. Nobody knew that the show it represented would become synonymous to a young Filipino named Lea Salonga.

At that time, no one outside the Philippines had ever heard of Lea Salonga, a 17-year old aspiring actress and singer, but she was well-known in her own country. She began her career at seven, appearing in movies, and was the host of her own TV show by twelve. Friends urged her to audition for any part, whether a bit role or the lead role. Although Leas was hesitant to audition because she was in college, she still auditioned. "What's to lose?," shes said herself.

During the audition, Lea nervously sang "On My Own" from Les Miserables. They asked her to sing again so she sang Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love of All". After another round of auditions, Mackintosh announced that their worldwide search had come to an end: Lea along with fifteen others had passed.

After months of rehearsals, Miss Saigon debuted onstage in London, with the 2 1/2 hour spectacle dazzling audiences. Lea Salonga was mesmerizing in her lead role as Kim, a Vietnamese woman who falls in love with an American soldier and bears his child. So successful was the production that it also became a hit in New York.

Their success elicited an avalanche or rave reviews. Time magazine said, "in Salonga, a star is born." Lea became Asia's West End Queen and the toast of London. But that wasn't at all. In April 1990, she was declared by the prestigious Sir Laurence Olivier Awards as Best Actress in a Musical along with male lead actor Jonathan Pryce as Best Actor.

No doubt Lea Salonga was constantly motivated.