MANILA – Not many people know that Lea Salonga was tapped to record a demo of one of the most popular songs from “The Lion King.”
In an interview with Vanity Fair, English lyricist Tim Rice shared this piece of trivia as he and other Disney executives told the story of how “The Lion King” became a Broadway smash.
According to the Vanity Fair feature, it was Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was then the chairman of Walt Disney Studios, who came up with the idea to make the movie.
He told Disney Animation head Peter Schneider about this during a flight to Europe and that was when the concept of having a cub replacing his father as king was born.
Schneider and animator Thomas Schumacher then met with Rice at that time and they told him about the narrative which was initially titled “King of the Jungle.”
Tasked to write songs for it, Rice asked from Schneider and Schumacher if he could work with Elton John on the project.
“I thought he had the great combination of great melodies with a rock feel, like ('Jesus Christ) Superstar' and 'Evita.' Of course, I was thinking only of me at that point, trying to salvage my career. I knew working with Elton couldn’t hurt,” he said.
Rice and John worked hand in hand and came up with “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and “Be Prepared.” Katzenberg, however, was supposedly not impressed when he heard John’s tape.
“We were not writing in the tradition of Alan (Menken) and Howard (Ashman),” said Rice, noting that “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” sounded like a pop ballad, while “Be Prepared” turned out with a feel of rock.
That was the moment when Rice tapped Salonga to record a demo of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”
According to Salonga’s own account back in 2017, Rice enlisted her and Brad Kane to record a couple of demos for a brand new musical while they were in the middle of recording “A Whole New World” for “Aladdin.”
“We sang on ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ and ‘Just Can't Wait to be King.’ They were not at all worthy for release, and we were just glad to lend a helping hand. Later on, I got to rehearse the same with Matthew Broderick,” she said.
Salonga said “The Lion King” became a monumental success later on and it most certainly became one of her favorite musicals.
Aside from doing its demo recording during its early stage, Salonga said “The Lion King” is also special for her because that’s basically how she met her husband Robert Chien.
Salonga said she watched the musical in 1997 at the New Amsterdam Theater and she was “overwhelmed and left in tears by the parade of animals heading to the stage.”
“As the show continued, I noticed one tiny Asian dancer and told myself, ‘She's the only Asian up there. She is representing so many of us in that show on that stage. So proud,’” she said.
That dancer was Christine Yasunaga, who is apparently Chien’s cousin. She and Yasunaga got to work together in 2001 and that was when she played cupid between her and Chien.
“Everything the light touches extends to beyond the company of 'The Lion King - Musical,' and I will forever be grateful for how I was touched by the lights of Tim Rice and Christine Yasunaga,” Salonga said.
“The Lion King” recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.