Lea Salonga is many things. She’s a wife, mother, musical theatre queen and Disney Princess. Winner of a Tony, Olivier and Disney Legend award (amongst others), Salonga is in Adelaide for a special run of shows which showcased songs from her illustrious career, and I was incredibly grateful I’d managed to score some tickets to her final show.
The Festival Theatre, which can hold around 2000 people, looked basically packed out with musical theatre nerds, Disney fans and people who were simply out for a night at the theatre. Backed by the Adelaide Art Orchestra tonight, Salonga walked out onto the stage to great applause. She’s a tiny thing of a person, but as soon as she opened her mouth to sing, it was universally realised tonight that we were all in the company of a theatre star. Although we were in such a big venue, the interaction between Salonga and the crowd did make the mood quite intimate and it felt at times that we may as well have been in a cabaret or jazz club. The back stories of some of her most famous performances were delightful to listen to - from her introduction of the long version of “Reflection”, featured in the Disney film Mulan, (“Mickey Mouse hasn’t followed me over here, so I’m going to do the long version for you now…”) to a heartfelt intro for “I’d Give My Life For You” from Miss Saigon, the theatre piece she is most famous for.
The orchestra was fantastic to watch; the precision they performed with was brilliant and really filled the venue with a wide variety of emotions and soundscapes to complement Salonga’s powerful vocals. Salonga’s vocal range and control was amazing to listen to and experience; the way she powered through “Memories” and “I Dreamed a Dream” without faltering was true testament to the wealth of experience she has behind her, and the passion she brought to each performance was wonderful to see.
A definite highlight had to be her rendition of the classic Disney tune “A Whole New World”, a song I didn’t know she’d do, considering the male part of the song etc. However, once Salonga revealed she usually gets someone from the audience onstage to duet with her, the buzz went up tenfold. Thank god the guy who had the role bestowed upon him tonight was a trained performer, because I could tell that there were more than a few people who were praying for him not to screw it up as this had been a moment we’d all been waiting for! As Salonga chimed in with her verse, I instantly began having flashbacks to my childhood, Aladdin-obsessed, wanting to be Princess Jasmine so badly; Salonga’s voice is so recognisable, truly providing a moment of pure nostalgia and brought a grin to many a-face.
She finished up the show with a great performance of “Defying Gravity” from Wicked, earning a standing ovation, but it wasn’t long at all before she returned to the stage for a beautiful rendition of “Moon River”, rendering the crowd silent for the umpteenth time tonight. For the final show of her debut run of Australian performances, Salonga truly looked moved and appreciative of all the praise being showered on her tonight, which was comforting and pleasant to see, especially from a performer who would, one assumes, be used to this sort of reaction. As the house lights went up and the orchestra performed a reprise of “A Whole New World” as the crowds exited, I left feeling like I had truly seen a headliner of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival tonight – definitely a stand out so far.