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.