MANILA — Even Lea Salonga — Tony Award winner, Disney Legend, and Philippine pride — has been walked out on during a stage performance.
The reason, she said, may have had something to do with those precise descriptors of her, which have molded her “wholesome” image through decades of her career.
Salonga, of course, is known to movie fans as the singing voice of two Disney princesses: Jasmine in “Aladdin,” and the titular character of “Mulan.”
With key roles in popular musicals like “Annie,” “My Fair Lady,” “Into the Woods,” “Cinderella,” and “Cats” in the past 40 years, Salonga isn’t surprised that audiences have identified her with a particular genre — sometimes to a fault.
“The thing is, when my name is attached to anything, there’s an expectation of something that’s very Disney, which is something that we discovered when I did ‘Fun Home’ a couple of years ago.
“People saw ‘Lea Salonga’ and ‘Fun Home’ together, and thought, ‘Oh, this must be a very wholesome show!’ And it’s not,” Salonga said.
In the Atlantis Theatrical production of the Tony Award-winning musical in 2016, Salonga played Helen Bechdel, whom she described as the “wife of a closeted gay man who is having multiple affairs with all sorts of men.”
The central character, Helen’s lesbian daughter Alison, has a “love scene with another woman” on stage, Salonga pointed out.
“We had a walkout. We had a walkout! And the padre de pamilya actually walked out, whole family, tangay niya, headed to the lobby,” she said.
“There were people from the Atlantis office who were at the lobby, witnessed it. We got first-hand information. They were screaming in the lobby: ‘There are lesbians on stage! We thought this was a Disney show!’” Salonga recalled.
“Sir, research-research 'pag may time!” she quipped.
Salonga was speaking with ABS-CBN News on the sidelines of rehearsals for “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” another production from Atlantis Theatrical which sees her in a role far from her “wholesome” princess image.
She portrays Mrs. Lovett opposite Jett Pangan’s titular character in the Stephen Sondheim play, which will run from October 11-27 at The Theatre at Solaire.
In the musical, Mrs. Lovett is the accomplice of the serial killer Sweeney Todd, making meat pies out of the vengeful barber’s victims.
“Just because Lea’s name is attached to it, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be wholesome, especially if it’s in theater,” Salonga said, pointing out that she is decidedly wholesome in ABS-CBN’s “The Voice Kids,” where she is one of the coaches.
“For theater, you better do your research on the show first. This is ‘The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.’ This is not going to be wholesome. So please don’t bring your small children,” she said.
Salonga recounted the “Fun Home” walkout when asked what she considers the unique challenge of taking on Mrs. Lovett.
“It’s challenging for me because I have to find a different physicality, a different character voice. But I think the challenge is more with audience expectation, thinking it’s going to be some kind of a show, and realizing, ‘Oh, it’s not that kind of a show.’ And people have walked out of shows I’ve done because of it!”
Atlantis Theatrical’s staging of “Sweenty Todd” is the group’s final production for its 20th anniversary celebration. Cast members also include Andrew Fernando as Judge Turpin, Ima Castro as Beggar Woman, Nyoy Volante as Adolfo Pirelli, and Gerald Santos as Anthony.