Lea Salonga unplugged, unstoppable

Photo by Ivan Roque

By Elton Lugay & Cristina DC Pastor

At 40, Tony Award winner Lea Salonga is now a wife, parent, and a decidedly accomplished singer-performer. To our surprise, she’s a lot of fun too, and quite politically opinionated.

Consider the controversies she dove into when we asked:

Where do you stand on the issue of Ferdinand Marcos’ burial?

“Whatever is considered should not be for the benefit of one family but for the benefit of entire country. I don’t know that he deserves a hero’s burial, and it might just be a little much. It’s quite possible that he did a lot of good that because of that he’s being recognized. But for people that he may also have hurt, they may not take it lightly. For me, whatever is best for the entire country is what should be decided, putting aside all pride and familial loyalties. Everything should be taken in the context of history and the greater good of the people.”

Should Anthony Weiner resign?

“Has he done something that’s been good for the whole of New York? If he’s doing a lot of good for the city, for his community, it may be worth to keep him on board.” (The interview was conducted June 15, a day before the X-rated Rep. Weiner announced he was stepping down.)

There was nothing flimsy or measured about Lea during our hour-long interview at The Carlyle, where she has a nightly lounge act till next week. Dressed in a black tunic with white embroidery, she welcomed all questions, answering them without hesitation, except perhaps to mull them over and to frame an intelligent, from-the-gut riposte. There’s no warming up for this Toast of Broadway and, most recently, Reader’s Digest’s Second Most Trusted Filipino.

“I like being outspoken,” she said.

She began by sharpening her stand in favor of reproductive health. “I’m really pushing for informed choice,” she said. What irks her is when certain quarters use her popularity to hit back at her.

“I hear stuff like ‘We love you for singing but we don’t like you for your stand.’ All I ask is for people to respect what my stand is because I’m sure everybody is coming from a place where they can relate to it on a personal level,” she said. “If they don’t wanna come to my shows because of my politics, then that’s fine. I don’t force anybody to come see my shows. I don’t twist anybody’s arm.”

‘They don’t wanna come to my shows because of my politics, fine.’

A rare sighting of Lea and daughter Nicole Beverly. Photo by Nemuel Macabata

She maintained the size of a family is something a couple should be able to decide for themselves, and for the debate to “not get too personal.”

“Vasectomy is this, ligation is that. This is what condoms do, this is what pills do and that you’ll be made aware of the advantages as well as disadvantages. It’s left up to each person or couple to decide, OK, this is right for me, this is not right for me and after hearing everything I chose not to use anything at all,” she explained.

“A lot of these people are adults. I’d like to think that there is much intelligence going around, and that people can decide for themselves,” she continued. “If the priests have done their jobs, and done their jobs well, they have nothing to worry about.”

Lea, who ranked second in the Reader’s Digest’s Most Trusted Personalities in the Philippines (after actress-turned-social worker Rosa Rosal) said it felt good to be in the company of credible, trustworthy Filipinos, or those “trusted for their integrity.”

She was quite content with life — “I wasn’t bothering anybody, and nobody was bothering me” — until someone told her, “Lea, you have a voice, but you can’t just use it for singing.”

Having framed that, she adamantly said politics is not for her. “I don’t like to run. Politics, legislation, I don’t think I have the acumen for it. I don’t know how much compromise you have to do in order to get your job done.”

But she wouldn’t mind an ambassadorial post, maybe to the U.S., “if I’m asked to represent our kababayans here.”

Lea is currently the Food and Agriculture Organization Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations. She visited Tarlac recently and learned how farmers were being trained to plant alternative crops during the off-season for rice.

“We try to drumbeat the program,” she said. “There are a billion people who are chronically hungry, and it’s been proven that every agency that has anything to do with food is capable of providing enough food. However, it’s the access to it (that’s at issue). So what the FAO and other organizations are trying to do is teach people sustainable farming.”

Farmers are also being trained on the use of certain machines for harvesting efficiency, and being weaned from too much chemical fertilizer “which can be harmful.”

Her 5-year-old daughter, Nicole Beverly, has joined her on this recent trip to New York. Grandma Ligaya, Lea’s mother and constant companion, was looking after her at a Manhattan apartment during the interview. The kid doesn’t always travel with her mother, but when there’s a long break from school, she comes along.

“Every two or three weeks, I’m on a plane,” she said. “If it’s a long run of like two months, she can come. It becomes too disruptive if it’s shorter.”

For this visit, an apartment is provided for them, although Lea has a Manhattan apartment of her own which she is renting out.

“I’d love to get it back,” she said.

Does the tenant know she’s renting it from a Broadway star?

“Yeah,” came the reply with a shrug of the shoulder.

“Next week I’m gonna take my daughter to the museums,” said Lea. Her daughter’s privacy is most important to her and husband Rob, and that’s why there are no photos of Beverly out there with her famous mom.

“She knows that mom is a singer,” she said. “She likes to dance too. She copies, but I know that it’s not a conscious effort.”

Lea’s Chinese-Japanese-American husband, who works for a media company in the Philippines, has come around to the idea that the occasional absence is something to expect in a marriage to “someone in this business.”

“He’s keeping busy on his front, I am too, and our daughter’s probably busier than both of us,” she said.

She would love to have a second child, but time is a hurdle. She is not against surrogacy or adoption, but confessed how she enjoyed being pregnant.

“I’d totally want to be pregnant again, but I’m 40,” she said. “I seriously enjoyed being pregnant. I never felt more attractive, more sexy, and powerful than when I was carrying my baby. It’s an interesting, able-to-conquer-the-world feeling.”

While in New York for the Café Carlyle concert, Lea decided to extend her stay. She will participate in a month-long workshop for “Allegiance Musical” where she’ll be playing the lead role opposite “Star Trek” actor George Takei. She plays dual Glorias – one a ghostly spirit, the other a real person.

“It’s a workshop of a musical that hopefully will get to Broadway next year,” Lea took pains to explain because of what she called a misreporting in the press. The musical, she stressed, is not yet on Broadway.

“It’s a workshop of a musical that will hopefully arrive in Broadway next year. A cast of actors rehearse the scripts, rehearse the songs as if we’re doing it onstage. But all this is happening inside the studio where most everybody is just wearing black and playing these parts to members of family, friends, investors, producers production people,” she said.

Asked if there’s something else the public doesn’t know about her, Lea pointed to her left ear. “I have three piercings.” Just the left. The second hole she had at age 24, the third “pretty recently” when she was feeling a bit emotional. Both were done in Manila.

“I know in my mind I’m not symmetrical,” she said. “I’m an actor. As an artist you must have some kind of insanity in your head. I think each artist knows that within themselves, there’s a crazy person, and that crazy person has to be allowed to come out.”

Lea Salonga’s latest CD, “The Journey So Far,” is due in August. The CD includes selections from her Broadway and Disney musicals as well as Filipino classics and cabaret standards.

Elton Lugay is a journalist, publicist and community events organizer from Queens.

Cristina DC Pastor is the founding editor of The FilAm.


  1. LS Fanatic wrote:

    Lea Salonga is not just a talented artist… she’s a highly opinionated woman and fans should respect that.. beauty, brains and talent.

  2. Innie Williams wrote:

    I remember Leah when she went to the US to audition for Les Mis. She was 19 then. She made a friendly visit to our publication, JPI. She was simply dressed in a barong boasting her simple beauty. I like her as she never puts her accomplishments in her head and still walks with her feet on the ground.

  3. Serafina L wrote:

    Alam nyo medyo may issue ako kay Lea kasi. Nung intern ako sa isang TV network many years ago, kay Kuya *** Show, guest namin si Ms. Lea. Pag pasok nya ng studio, nasa may door ako. Eh medyo nakaharang ako sa daanan lang naman nya, so dahil hindi sya makadaan, instead na nag-“excuse me” sya, itinulak ako kaya subsob ang beauty ko sa floor–hahaha!! Noon, galit na galit ako sa kanya—ni wala kasing “sorry”. Pero anyway, nakalipas na ang aming kabanata–hahaha!! In all fairness, beauty pa rin naman sya kahit medyo nag-age na rin.

  4. kid wrote:

    mukhang nangayayat na si lea kumpara nang nasa concert siya ng les mis na napanood sa kqed tv.

  5. Renjie wrote:

    She spoke with strong conviction, I think that’s one personality that made her as one of the trusted personalities in our country. 😉

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