REVIEW: Lea Salonga (Royal Albert Hall)

When it comes to musical theatre royalty, few can match the fabulous Lea Salonga. Having been discovered at age 17 to play Kim in the original production of Miss Saigon, the two-time Disney Princess has since performed for The Queen, Diana, Princess of Wales, former US presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Her accolades include a Grammy Award nomination, an Olivier, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Tony and Theatre World Awards. Lea is a judge on the Philippines’ version of The Voice and has sold a staggering 19 million albums worldwide, making her one of the best-selling Filipina artists of all time. Now, Lea returns to the UK with her brand new Dream Again tour stopping at the Royal Albert Hall, a venue she hasn’t played since her iconic turn as Eponine in the 10th Anniversary performance of Les Misérables.

With her younger brother and resident conductor of the Malaysian Philharmonic Gerard Salonga conducting the orchestra, it was clear from her first number Dream Again it was going to be a very special night. Lea’s setlist included beautiful renditions of recent hits such as For Forever from Dear Even Hansen and It’s Quiet Uptown from Hamilton through to show stopping performances of well-known classics Somewhere from West Side Story, Maybe This Time from Cabaret and an emotional tribute to Stephen Sondheim with Not While I’m Around/Move On from his great masterpieces Sweeney Todd and Sunday In The Park With George. Also included were gems from her illustrious career including Waiting for Life from her recent Broadway outing in Once On This Island, the Stephen Swartz penned Written In Stone that was cut from Mulan and a stunning rendition of Bring Him Home from Les Misérables, dedicated to all the front line workers throughout the pandemic who lit up the auditorium with their mobile phones in a sparkly emotional joyous moment.

Moving away form her musical theatre cannon, Lea treated the audience to beautiful renditions of John Lennon’s Imagine, Photograph by Ed Sherran and a wonderfully camp slow tempo version of Toxic by Britney Spears. Just when the audience couldn’t love her more, she indulged us all by leading a sing-a-long of mega boyband hits including Backstreet Boys, Westlife, One Direction and Hanson. You haven’t lived until you’ve witnessed the full-on fever dream of a packed Royal Albert Hall singing “Mmmbop, ba duba dop, Ba du bop…” led by a Disney Princess.

Towards the end of the evening Lea asked “but what about her songs?” before telling the audience she was “aware of the situation” and sang a medley of her career topping hits including On My Own from Les Misérables, I’d Give My Life For You from Miss Saigon, Reflection from Mulan, A Whole New World from Aladdin and I Dreamed A Dream from Les Misérables. As she left the stage after her last number, the audience leapt to their feet and were only quiet again after she reentered and sang a phenomenal How Far I’ll Go from recent Disney hit Moana.

Lea’s beautiful voice, poise and fun personality onstage made for the perfect evening. She sang Dolly Parton, Judy Garland and Cyndi Lauper, regaled the audience with stories from her career and connected with us in a way only true professionals can. Her Dream Again tour at the Royal Albert Hall was a very special evening and I hope she comes Back For Good very soon.

Review by Stuart James