MANILA -- A few days before her two-night, sold-out concert “Perfect Ten” at the Newport Performing Arts Theater of Resorts World Manila, Lea Salonga took to social media to share her excitement for her latest show.
“Many of the songs are those I’ve sung before, but it’s great revisiting music as I get older. Things take on a totally different meaning and feel different to my heartstrings. Cannot wait to do this!” she wrote on Facebook.
Long-time fans of Salonga are likely to have seen her perform most of these songs before -- whether live or on YouTube. Not that this really matters. With Salonga, it’s all about the voice, her clear tones, her precision and control and the dramatic way she would attack a song — whether it’s a complicated Broadway number or a simple pop hit.
That said, “Perfect Ten” is probably the most easygoing of Salonga’s major concerts. Featuring a mix of show tunes and a couple of pop songs performed with the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra under the musical direction of her brother Gerard Salonga, she and director Floy Quintos lined up songs that are familiar not just to musical theater geeks but to a broader audience.
In fact, “Perfect Ten” includes many of Salonga’s “greatest hits,” which she normally doesn't perform anymore in her major concept concerts — her two Disney tunes “A Whole New World” from “Aladdin,” and “Reflection” from “Mulan”; “On My Own” from “Les Miserables”; and a “Miss Saigon” suite — which drew loud applause from the audience at Thursday’s technical dress rehearsal, which this writer attended.
Opening with the classic “Something’s Coming” from “West Side Story,” Salonga was clearly back in her element after she was sidelined by an injury from a skiing accident early this year. She followed this up with the tricky Sondheim number, “Everybody Says Don’t” from "Anyone Can Whistle," which had me pondering in my seat if Salonga could well be our version of Barbra Streisand, in terms of vocal technique and artistic choices. Then lo and behold, her next song was Streisand’s “Evergreen” from “A Star is Born,” as she effortlessly shifted to a more pop style while still mining every poetic lyric for the right feeling.
Salonga is no stranger to the Newport stage, which has hosted the finals of the singing competition “The Voice of the Philippines.” This fact wasn’t lost on the star, who is one of the judges and mentors on the show, as she called on her first guest, Esang de Torres, who was part of her team on “The Voice Kids.” Although the young girl lost, she has found her place in musical theater like her idol and the two sang a duet of “Naughty” from the musical “Matilda,” which starred De Torres, now taller than how we remembered her and singing with so much more confidence.
Apart from De Torres, Salonga’s daughter Nicole Chien also had her spot in the concert, joining her mother for a fun medley of songs from “Gypsy,” which the young girl charmingly noted is about a domineering stage mother.
I was expecting to hear a number from “Miss Saigon” when Tanya Manalang, who played Kim in the recent West End revival, joined Salonga onstage. Instead, the two chose the duet “For Good” from “Wicked.” Manalang, who had just finished “Ang Huling El Bimbo” in Resorts World, also had her own solo, an uplifting version of “Out There” from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
It seems the “Miss Saigon” pieces were reserved for the evening’s special guest, Broadway actor Michael K. Lee, who starred in the Vietnam War musical with Salonga. (Both were also in the musical “Allegiance,” and in “They’re Playing Our Song,” which was staged in Manila in the late-1990s.) Lee, it turned out, once played Chris in the Korean production and he and Salonga did a duet of “Sun and Moon” and “The Last Night of the World.” The two also sang “A Whole New World.”
Salonga wasn’t kidding when she said we were in a for a special treat as Lee proceeded to show off his melodious tenor in the haunting “’Til I Hear You Sing” from “Love Never Dies” and the showstopper “This is the Moment” from “Jekyll and Hyde.”
For her wind-up, Salonga did the lyrical “Magbalik Ka Na Mahal” from “Rama Hari,” “On My Own” from “Les Miserables,” which she has truly claimed like her own, and the sweeping “Back to Before” from “Ragtime.”
While show tunes as expected dominated Salonga’s repertoire for “Perfect Ten,” two songs not from musical theater wonderfully showcased her gift as a vocalist. For the most part, her stripped down version of Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” featured just her voice with a piano and a cello (the full string section came in towards the end), resulting in a moving piece that truly brought out the empowering quality of the song.
For her first encore, she sang the classic “Over the Rainbow” with such sweet and tender tones, providing comfort despite the cavernous size of the treater with the warmth of her delivery. She could have ended there and it would have been perfect.
But “Perfect Ten” is also a celebration, specifically of Resorts World’s 10th year. So she closed with a “Mamma Mia” medley that had the crowd on their feet and LSS-ing to “Dancing Queen” as they leave the NPAT -- a fitting gown-with-sneakers finale for a relaxed evening at the theater.