Heartwarming surprises in Lea’s Christmas concert
You won’t find a more potent musical combination than Christmas carols and Lea Salonga’s prodigious voice. And nothing could be clearer proof for this than the singer’s holiday concert series “The Gift,” which helped usher in the Christmas week for the lucky concertgoers at Resorts World Manila last Saturday and Sunday.
What a way to cap off another banner year for the Tony-winning Filipino singer-actress and Inquirer Entertainment columnist (she introduced PDI as “my home paper”).
Lea began the year wrapping up her stint as Erzulie in “Once on This Island” on Broadway and ended 2019 by winning best actress at this year’s Aliw Awards for her portrayal of Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
So, it felt like an extraspecial two-in-one treat for viewers to get a sumptuous serving of “Not While I’m Around,” which naturally made its way into Lea’s repertoire last weekend.
But, really, there’s no voice better-suited for carols and showtunes than Lea’s—as formidable for its pristine beauty as it is for its built-in emotive quality. That it has remained seamless and unaffected by wear and tear 39 years after she began performing professionally is a remarkable feat in itself.
With her brother, conductor Gerard Salonga, and the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra backing her up, Lea shuttled from one inspired song choice to another and made the whole thing look and sound easy.
We couldn’t imagine a better lineup of songs to serenade an audience with, from a medley of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and the Streisand-channeling cover of “Jingle Bells” to the string of delectable seasonal staples that included Natalie Cole’s “Grown-Up Christmas List,” Johnny Mathis’ “We Need a Little Christmas,” Jim Brickman’s “The Gift” and “A Place Called Home” (from “A Christmas Carol”)—each melody as dazzlingly rendered and every note sung with lived-in believability.
The show’s easygoing pace lent “The Gift” its “homey,” friendly vibe. But it turned even more intimate when Lea brought her musical merrymaking closer to home by way of OPM carols—from Joey Albert’s festive Christmas classic “Kumukutikutitap” to something as wistful as Ariel Rivera’s lovelorn ballad “Sana Ngayong Pasko.”
Of course the concert would not have been complete without showtunes and movie theme songs that are snug fit for Lea’s musical yarn-spinning skills, like “Reflection” (from “Mulan’), “Let It Go” (“Frozen”), “This Is Me” (“The Greatest Showman”), “Story Goes On” (“Baby”) and “Journey to the Past” (“Anastasia”).
Hearing Lea sing made viewers feel as if the songs were about them, and transported them to indelible moments in their past. In our case, we couldn’t get enough of how she deliciously limned every note and lyric in “Children Will Listen”—a song from “Into the Woods,” one of the musicals that we directed, back in 2007. What sets Lea apart from other skilled vocalists is an instrument that resonates as memorably when she sings a song’s middle and low registers as when she scales its stratospheric sections.
Concertgoers who were patient enough to wait for Lea’s encore numbers were treated to another display in versatility: After all, it isn’t every day that we hear her singing unapologetically frothy, feel-good “throwback” numbers from some of the biggest boy bands of the ’90s and 2010s—from ‘NSync’s “Tearin’ Up My Heart” and Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” to Hanson’s “MMMBop” and One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful.” What a ride!
After the number, to prove there was also winking fun and irreverence to all that “formality,” Lea raised the hem tip of her glorious red gown high enough to reveal a pair of pink sneakers—given to her by Gerard—under the frock!
But the biggest surprise of the evening weren’t those sneakers or any of Lea’s song numbers. It came by way of a performance from “somebody closer to home”: Lea’s 13-year-old daughter Nicole Chien, now wearing a short hair similar to her celebrated mother’s.
Nicole sang alongside some of “The Voice Kids’” most talented alumni. Esang de Torres, Gaea Salipot, Alexa Salcedo, Ian Prelligera and Cyd Pangca were terrific in the solo spots and harmonies assigned to them, but Nicole confidently held her own in a complicated number that could have been easily botched by somebody with less skill and talent.
We must admit, we’ve never seen Nicole perform before, so when she came out onstage, we didn’t know who she was. But when she started singing “Ring of Keys” (from “Fun Home”) and skillfully maneuvered her way out of its circuitous melody, she proudly demonstrated whose daughter she was—with flair and aplomb.
But it wasn’t just Nicole’s singing that won us over—she also acted it out like a pro! No wonder Lea couldn’t help but tap her arm when it was time for her to come out for her next number.
A chip off the old block, indeed.
Now we understand where Lea’s gravitas was coming from when she sang the line from “Story Goes On”: And now, I can see the chain extending/My child is next in a line that has no ending… INQ
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.