Up close with Lea Salonga, young theater fan finds an inspiring role model

The author takes a spot beside her theater idol. Photo by Monette Rivera

The author takes a spot beside her theater idol. Photo by Monette Rivera

By Isabella Rivera

This was not the first time I was meeting Lea Salonga.

I first met her was when she had a concert in Hawaii; I was 8 years old then. From that time on, my mom saw how I followed her shows, watched some of them, and became a fan.

However, seeing her on the evening of September 15 at a reception held at the Consul General’s residence on the Upper East Side was unlike the other times because I was able to hear her talk. She looked beautiful that evening, and I loved her short hairstyle

Lea was there with the amazing George Takei; both are appearing in the musical “Allegiance,” which is based on his life and his family’s journey to achieve the American Dream. Takei’s character, Sam Kimura (played by Telly Leung), goes back 60 years where his story begins with his bid to rescue his family from the violence of World War II. Lea portrays Kei Kimura, Sam’s sister. Familial love is a theme that is carried throughout the musical.

Lea is making a comeback after being away from Broadway for about eight years. She was last seen as Fantine in “Les Miserables,” and that was in 2007.

As Lea spoke, she described the perseverance of the cast and production team. She also reflected on the determination clearly portrayed by the characters which George Takei wanted to capture.

Having been a fan of Lea since I was still a young girl, hearing her speak those inspiring words only made me look up to her even more. She has come so far, worked so hard, and has the true Filipino heart of determination to keep on pushing.

Ever since I first heard her sing as Mulan and Jasmine, my two favorite Disney princesses, I immediately fell in love with her voice. She has a gentle yet powerful voice that inspired me to give singing and theater a chance. She has never failed to impress everyone with her talent and is amazingly humble even on top of all her success.

Being a Filipina in the arts, I am always challenged because my outward appearance is not the “typical” look of an actress. Through Lea’s career, I see that it is not always what the directors want to see, but it is about what you have to offer. In the business of theater, everything is analyzed through a visual aspect, but Lea has shown me that it is about the heart and drive. She will always be someone who inspires me and who I look up to because of how much hard work she puts into everything that she does.

Lea was very down to earth. When I was introduced to her, she greeted me with a smile and a handshake and thanked me for attending the event. Seeing that she greeted each person in a sincere way was reassuring because she is grounded in her roots of Filipino hospitality. I was really glad to have had that encounter.

My mother, ABS-CBN’s Monette Rivera, introduced me to many of her colleagues in the community media and also to leaders of organizations. I was able to speak with producers, actors, journalists, educators, and directors who all had a big heart for the Filipino community, which gave me feelings of pride to be a Filipino. I definitely enjoyed hearing wondering stories about their successes and their words of encouragement to me for the future to come.

This whole experience was one I will never forget. Being surrounded by talented people exposed me to the organic energy that is a foundation of the theater world and makes it what it is today. Hearing the stories and advice from all these knowledgeable individuals gave me a sense of reassurance that with all the hard work there is success at the end of the tunnel. Especially given the amount of pride Filipinos have for their culture, I learned to embrace who I am. In that intimate space, we gathered to celebrate and share our common love for the Filipino community and theater in the beautiful city of New York.

Isabella Rivera, 17, is a senior at The Beacon School in the Hell’s Kitchen district. Ever since she was 5, she has had a strong liking for the performing arts. At The Rosetta LeNoire Musical Theater Program, she takes on multiple roles in various productions. Tony Award-winner Lea Salonga is one of her role models. She is the oldest daughter of Randy and Monette Rivera of The Filipino Channel.

‘Allegiance’ stars Lea Salonga and George Takei with Consul General Mario de Leon and family, and officers of the Philippine Consulate General. Photo by Ledy Almadin

‘Allegiance’ stars Lea Salonga and George Takei with Consul General Mario de Leon and family, and officers of the Philippine Consulate General. Photo by Ledy Almadin

red line

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: