Broadway's Lea Salonga brings her 'Dream Again Tour' to Chicago's Copernicus Center
She was drawn into a student uprising in France. She sacrificed for love during the Vietnam War. She helped defend the Imperial City.
And this weekend, Lea Salonga, who sang as Princess Jasmine in Disney's 1992 animated "Aladdin," takes a magic carpet ride to Chicago with her "Dream Again Tour."
As part of her North American journey, the Tony-winning Broadway star -- who has also earned Laurence Olivier, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Theatre World awards -- will lend her sparkling vocals to a number of musical treats, including a celebration of the 30-year anniversary of her recording of "A Whole New World."
Even with her popularity from "Aladdin," her set at Chicago's Copernicus Center will feature much more than just Disney songs.
"I think audiences will be a little bit surprised by the selection that we've put together," Salonga said. "It's just a really nice rounded set list that I've been having so much fun performing. I can't wait to sing the next song as it comes up. It's just that much fun to do."
The tunes slated for the evening will feature quite a few pop songs, she said, as well as a tribute to the late composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who died last year. And definitely a lot of musical theater -- only natural because Salonga is probably best known for her portrayal of Eponine and later Fantine in "Les Miserables" and for originating the heart-wrenching role of Kim in the 1989 world premiere of "Miss Saigon" in London.
One reveal from the set Salonga was excited to talk about is "For Forever" from the musical "Dear Evan Hansen."
"My gosh, this story is so fun to tell. And there's a lot of imagination that goes into it. ... That song has just been so much fun to do," she said. "I do explain what the show is about. And when I set the song up and explain that this is from the show, there are actually a lot of people in the audience that respond.
"When I say the title of the show, it's like 'Ooh!' I'm like 'Wow, OK, a lot of people are into this.' I've been personally very surprised with how much musical theater appreciation there has been."
It's a bit surprising Salonga has blinders on about her contributions to the craft considering her groundbreaking roles and crossover stardom, including an appearance on The CW's musical-comedy series "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend." Alongside names like Kristen Chenowith, Ben Platt, Leslie Odom and Lin-Manuel Miranda, Salonga has helped to nudge Broadway players into the mainstream spotlight now more than ever.
"If you know 'Moana' and 'Hamilton,' they helped that explode because of the genre of music that they used to create the show," she said, quickly giving the credit to her musical contemporaries. "It's just been a wonderful way to draw more young people into this art form and to gain an appreciation of this art form. When I went to see 'Hamilton,' it didn't feel like a theater show. It felt like a concert, and the audience was just so into it. And if shows like that get young people coming to the theater, yeah, bring us some more please!"
While she humbly deflects any attention for that shift, she does look back with pride on a change that started when she was cast as Eponine in "Les Miserables."
"It was a huge deal, I think, for the Filipino community. I think it was a huge deal for many Asians and Asian performers because this is the first time that somebody was going to do this," she said. "But I needed to just focus on the songs. I needed to focus on this role. I needed to focus on the blocking. I needed to focus on just my little part of it. And then let whatever happens around it happen around it."
"When you're in the middle of it, you don't really see it, and it's probably good because then it kept me from feeling in any way shape or form overwhelmed," she continued. "Because now I realize what a big deal it was and what it ended up starting in how the casting of that role eventually just kept on changing. It was exciting to be a part of it when I was the only person of color in that show. But it's much more exciting now seeing that when a person of color goes into the show, it's not that big of a deal anymore. It's like 'Oh, yeah, of course. They're vocally perfect for it. That's it.' And at the end of the day, that's really all that matters."
Her international success aside, Salonga said she continues to be involved in and enjoy theatrical productions back in the Philippines. And despite having been part of the spectacle of shows such as "Miss Saigon," theater still holds magic in her eyes.
"It's still exciting to watch, to go to a theater and sit in the dark and watch people do what they do and do it well," she said. "Theater has kind of exploded here, from watching, not just me, but so many other Filipinos and Filipino Americans be successful in the West End and Broadway. It's been kind of inspiring."
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Lea Salonga's 'The Dream Again Tour'
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 22
Where: Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave, Chicago, (773) 777-8898, copernicuscenter.org