Leo Valdez credits the Inquirer’s resident critic, Nestor Torre, for unwittingly pushing him to keep improving his craft as a singer.
“Nestor said something in one of his reviews of my early performances that I kept to heart… It actually noted a weakness in my style, but I took it very positively because it was written in a constructive manner,” Valdez told the Inquirer in a recent chat.
Known for reprising Jonathan Pryce’s role as The Engineer in “Miss Saigon” since 1994, Valdez is in town for a vacation. He has also accepted an offer to do a show, “Broadway Showstoppers” which goes onstage Tuesday, 8 p.m., at the Newport Performing Arts Theater of Resorts World Manila.
He has an interesting lineup of guests: Joanna Ampil and Ima Castro, who, like Leo, have made their marks in the international theater musical scene; and the Opera Belles and Primo, both composed of a trio of young, talented singers.
Valdez pointed out one of his guests’ bragging rights: “Joanna, incidentally, was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s only choice to play Mary Magdalene in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’ Her contract stipulated that she would have no understudy.”
Again PDI’s Torre figured in the conversation when Valdez looked back on his first big break in the biz. In 1981, he interpreted “Magsimula Ka,” written by a budding composer named Gines Tan, which won third prize at the Metro Manila Popular Music Festival. Three years later “Magsimula Ka” became a full-blown stage musical, with Torre writing the script and Valdez in the lead role.
“Gines was so inspired by our winning in Metropop that he proceeded to write a whole musical based on his life story,” Valdez recalled. “His parents wanted him to run the family business, but he opted to follow his dream, which is to write songs.”
Finding his calling
In a sense, certain events in Valdez’s own life motivated him to follow his calling. He was majoring in architecture at the University of Santo Tomas when the singing bug bit him. “The singers at Circus Band were my idols and I was interpreting ‘The Harder I Try’ in school,” he recounted. “I was sort of noticed at a campus variety show and eventually dropped out of school.”
Valdez did his first gigs at the Via Mare restaurant in Makati, where a guitarist accompanied him as he sang “Feelings,” “If Ever I Would Leave You” and “Ngayon at Kailan Man,” among other classics and hits of the period.
In 1977, Villar Records released his self-titled debut album, although Valdez would primarily be known for the single, “’Di Ba’t Ako’y Tao Ring May Damdamin” flip-sided by “Dahil sa Isang Bulaklak.”
After “Magsimula Ka,” Valdez was a highly regarded entertainer for much of the 1980s, although it was “Miss Saigon” that threw open the doors of opportunities beyond his wildest dreams.
“It’s been a very good life,” he said, breaking into a wide smile. “I’m also happy that theater is alive in the country, although I wish there would be more investors in projects to improve the plight of my fellow artists.”
Asked about the traits that he developed as an artist, Valdez spoke in a slow manner: “I’m never late for shows and rehearsals… I’m not a perfectionist… but I’m exacting… That’s the high that I get every night when I do a show…”
And how does he unwind? “Oh, I always love a good time out!”