Lea Salonga

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Theatrical royalty and original Miss Saigon Lea Salonga brought her sensational one-woman show to Manchester’s Opera House over the weekend as part of her current UK tour. Rescheduled from February due to an unfortunate skiing accident Salonga quickly proved to an excited Manchester audience that she was more than worth the wait.

Opening with the Nina Simone classic Feeling Good Salonga sets the tone for the evening, slick, sharp and effortlessly brilliant. Accompanied by a six-piece band which includes Musical Director Larry Yurman whom worked with Salonga back in her Les Misérables Broadway days the talented musicians accompany her beautifully. Each piece is perfectly paced while the incredible acoustics within the Opera House make it feel as though she is singing directly to each and every person there. The impressive lighting design adds to the visual appeal of the show while Salonga’s vocals really do speak for themselves.

Incredibly warm and charismatic her frequent exchanges with the audience between numbers further add to the charm of her incredible performance, already enraptured with her judging from the enthusiastic applause even before the first note was sung Salonga further seals the deal when she announces “Manchester, you are giving me life right now”.

The varied set list caters wonderfully for all tastes; there’s lashings of musical theatre numbers including Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, Company and Hamilton as well as a brilliant selection of contemporary songs ranging from Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car to perhaps rather surprisingly One Direction’s Story Of My Life which is delivered with warm emotion.

Of course no performance would be complete without Salonga treating audiences to pieces from the Disney productions she famously voiced. Her performance of Reflection from Disney’s Mulan allows for a significant introductory speech about the importance of representation and visibility and how honoured she feels to represent not just Asian women on stage but an ‘badass Asian warrior’.

From Reflection Salonga moves poignantly into Train’s Drops of Jupiter which she dedicates to all those who have been affected by cancer after revealing that the Grammy award-winning song was written by lead singer Pat Monahan after the loss of his mother.

Act 1 comes to a close with an absolute fan favourite which Salonga describes as ‘the gift that keeps on giving’; a song she has sung many hundreds of times but one which walloped her emotionally the first time she sang it after the birth of her now 13 year old daughter. I’d Give My Life For You sounds as fresh and as devastating today as it did 30 years on from those first days of Miss Saigon rehearsals.

Act 2 opens with a lively delivery of Another Hundred People from Stephen Sondheim’s Company swiftly followed by a spectacular rendition of Let It Go from Disney’s Frozen which Salonga wittily describes as a song ‘you simply can’t escape from’ while inviting the eager audience to join in with the chorus to which they happily oblige.

The addition of a stripped back acoustic version of A-ha’s Take On Me is a real highlight of the show, showcasing not only Salonga’s incredible range and control but also the sheer talent of guitarist Chris Allard. Next comes a haunting rendition of Burn from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash-hit Hamilton a work she describes as ‘absolute genius’ and a show she has seen three times.

Salonga’s first stint as a Disney Princess was voicing Aladdin’s Princess Jasmine which resulted in one of the most successful duets in cinematic history, A Whole New World. Salonga takes this opportunity to ask for a volunteer to join her on stage in delivering the iconic song. Audience member Mark Cunningham, a dedicated fan since he first saw Salonga in Miss Saigon back in 1989 when he was just 14 is the lucky person chosen and delivers an impressive rendition of the much loved piece, complementing Salonga wonderfully. The pair thrill the audience with the duet receiving one of the warmest responses of the evening; an unforgettable opportunity for Mark as well as a heart-warming moment for the watching audience.

Salonga brings the show to a close with a medley of Les Misérables numbers I Dreamed A Dream and On My Own. The first Asian actress to play the roles of Eponine and Fantine on Broadway Salonga leaves the audience speechless with her goose bump inducing, note perfect delivery.

Salonga thankfully sticks with the tradition of delivering an encore and reappears to thunderous applause as she bursts into a celebratory performance of This Is Me from The Greatest Showman followed by her final song for the night, Whitney Houston’s Greatest Love of All.

Salonga thrills effortlessly from start to finish, her voice smooth as honey is as powerful as it is perfect. Thirty years of entertaining audiences have cemented her as without doubt one of the most extraordinary talents in the world today. Her warmth and talent combined with a varied and accessible set list ensures her appeal endures while she no doubt gains new fans along the way.

With limited dates left on this current tour we suggest you summon your inner badass and get booking tickets ASAP!

Further information and tour dates for Lea Salonga can be found here.

 

 

Les Misérables

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Les Misérables is one of those few tour de force musicals that need no introduction; the buzz surrounding its arrival in Manchester a rare phenomenon. Performances sold out within days while the shows return to the region in May 2020 at the Lowry was announced even before Jean Valjean had uttered ‘24601’ on this current visit; within minutes of the curtain raising at tonight’s performance it becomes abundantly clear why.

While the West End production of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s masterpiece has been running at the Queens Theatre since 1985 it is a newly conceived touring version that has been taking the country by storm since opening in Leicester in November 2018. 

This stunning production first conceived by producer Cameron Mackintosh in 2009 in celebration of the shows 25th anniversary offers a fresh vibrancy which will no doubt recruit a new generation of theatre fans while making devoted fans fall in love with Les Misérables all over again.

Laurence Connor and James Powell’s inspired direction ensures that the almost three-hour duration whizzes by; keeping the audience fully engaged throughout this epic spectacle. There is not one drop in pace nor lull in action. Act I ending with the rousing One Day More perhaps the most epic way to lead into an interval ever.

The biggest change from the current production running in the West end is Matt Kinley’s striking design. Gone is the famous revolve and in its place come vibrant and visually stunning projections; this new design still triggering the heartfelt emotion of the traditional show whilst adding the thrill of a cinematic feel to proceedings.

Kinley’s designs (expertly animated by 59 Productions) are based on Victor Hugo’s original paintings, and offer a new depth and authenticity to the material while Paule Constable lights each scene with atmospheric perfection. Benefitting from this design creativity the scenes in the underground sewers of Paris are outstanding while Javert’s demise is quite simply jaw-dropping.

The journey Killian Donnelly takes us on as Jean Valjean is bursting with gut-wrenching emotion; from embittered convict through to tired elder nearing ultimate redemption his commitment to the role never wavers. His voice is perfection, from the gentle soothing tones during the opening of Bring Him Home to the full-out goosebump-inducing Who Am I? Nic Greenshields is equally convincing as the brooding Javert, commanding in his presence and convincing in his delivery, his stunning performance during Stars receiving one of the biggest applause of the evening.

The Thénardier’s (Sophie-Louise Dann and Martin Ball) comical interludes are an absolute joy, both clearly delighting in their roles and cementing themselves as audience favourites.

Both Katie Hall as Fantine and Tegan Bannister as Eponine break audience hearts with their moving performances while Harry Apps’ emotional delivery of Empty Chairs At Empty Tables convinces further that this is a company for who nothing less than perfection will do.

The inevitable and well-deserved standing ovation confirms the power of this enduring story; combine that with the beauty of its soaring score and the astonishing quality of talent on stage and you quite literally have the perfect piece of theatre. Every person in the ensemble gives their heart and soul to this production and the result is sensational. Epic in its scale and breath-taking in its brilliance. If you only ever see one piece of theatre make it Les Misérables.

On at the Palace theatre until Saturday 30th March, currently sold out but check here for returns otherwise tickets go on general sale for The Lowry on Friday 1st March and can can be purchased here.