Lea Salonga on aging gracefully: ‘Possible with plenty of laughter and wonderful friendships’

Published March 9, 2021, 2:26 PM

by Rica Arevalo

She shares her milestones on her 50th birthday

Lea Salonga (Photo by Raymund Isaac)

When we learned that Lea Salonga was turning 50 (Feb. 22), we wanted to feature her grace-filled life, both her professional and personal achievements. We got in touch with her sister-in-law, DJ Francisco-Salonga, who was our grade school classmate and a violin protégé. When Gerard learned about it from Malaysia, he told us to get in touch with Mommy Ligaya. The ever-gracious Mommy Ligaya called us several times to inform us that Lea was “game” and  I should give the Miss Saigon star a deadline. Of course, I couldn’t. Days turned into weeks and finally, Lea delighted Manila Bulletin Lifestyle with her five-decade highlights.  

What are the milestones of your life the past five decades? 

1970s—There’s only one highlight I can name: The King and I, which was my first show in March, 1978. The few things I remember about this experience was being unafraid of being on stage, loving wearing those wonderful Celia Laurel-designed costumes, and singing that score with a bunch of other children.

1980s—The 1980s are a little more difficult, so I’ll list a few things: Annie in 1980, opening for Menudo in 1985, 1986, and 1987, opening for Stevie Wonder in 1988. The big one that really changed my life, however, was Miss Saigon in 1989. This show really changed not just the trajectory of my career, but the path of the rest of my life.

Lea as Kim in Miss Saigon

1990sMiss Saigon marks a lot of the 1990s for me: opening the Broadway production in 1991, recording the singing voice of Princess Jasmine in Aladdin in 1992 and Mulan in 1995-97 (its release was in 1998). I think the biggest highlight is playing Eponine in Les Miserables on Broadway. The stakes were very high as I was an Asian actor going into a very white show, and I felt like I had something to prove.

Lea as Fantine in Les Miserable (Photo by Joan Marcus)

2000s—Oh, this one is easy: the birth of my daughter. She was born in 2006 and remains the love of my life.

2010s—There are a few: getting picked to be a coach on The Voice of the Philippines is a big one for sure, as I got to be on the other side of the table, so to speak. Along with apl.ed.ap, Sarah Geronimo, and Bamboo, I got to hit that red button to turn my chair for some amazingly talented people. The other highlight was finally, finally graduating from being an ingenue by playing Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. This might be the most fun I’ve had in a musical.

What is your greatest learning in your 50 years of existence?

Keep your sense of humor; you’re going to need it!

Live your life with joy (Photo by Luis Luque)

If you were to give a tribute to one person, who would you give it to? 

Probably my mother. There was so much she had to sacrifice for the betterment of my career, a lot that she lost. I shall always be grateful for everything she’s done.

‘There is no secret ingredient. It’s hard work, preparation, a little bit of luck, and good timing.’

For those people undergoing mid-life crisis, what is your advice?

Live your life with joy! You get only shot at life, so have a fun one! Never mind the labels other people stick on you.

How should one accept “old” age? What is your “regimen?” 

Aging gracefully is possible with plenty of laughter and wonderful friendships. At this point in time, I might’ve run out of f***s to give, which is a good thing!

Lea, hot at 50!

If you were to write a letter to yourself, what would be the content?

Don’t take any of this seriously… it’s all supposed to be fun.

What else do you want to achieve in life?

Nothing else, if I’m being honest. I just want to keep living this life as fully as I can.

Happy birthday, Lea! You brought the brightest smiles to all the Filipinos with your golden heart and talent. You are our national treasure!