Lea Salonga at Feinstein’s/54 Below

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 12.49.08 AM

 

 

by Jordan Cohen

 

New York audiences first met Lea Salonga when the musical Miss Saigon transferred from the West End to Broadway in 1991. At the tender age of 20, she would win practically every major New York prize for her iconic performance as Kim, including the Tony, Drama Desk, and Theatre World Awards.

 

Soon after, Ms. Salonga earned critical acclaim as Eponine in Les Miserables and would go on to star in Flower Drum Song and Allegiance on Broadway. She shot to international stardom as the singing voice of Princess Jasmine in the Disney animated megahit Aladdin and also provided the vocals for the title role in Disney’s Mulan. She has sold 19 million albums worldwide and is beloved throughout Singapore and The Philippines for her numerous theater and concert appearances there.

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 12.48.30 AM

So when a star of Ms. Salonga’s caliber and notoriety announces a residency at New York’s premiere cabaret venue, anticipation and excitement courses through the theater and cabaret community. I am thrilled to report that Ms. Salonga exceeds the highest of expectations and is nothing short of spectacular in her residency at Feinstein’s/54 Below.

 

Looking elegant in a sleek red pantsuit, Ms. Salonga had the audience wrapped around her finger from the very first note until her final bow. Her voice—crystal clear, multi-colored, and endlessly expressive—is unmistakable, given the ubiquity of “A Whole New World” in the 1990s. Watching her sing is a master class in confidence and control, both over her voice and the emotion she evokes through song. Undoubtedly, Ms. Salonga is one of the most technically impressive singers on the scene today.

 

Promising to “turn Manhattan into an isle of joy” with her opening number, Rodgers and Hart’s upbeat “Manhattan,” Ms. Salonga delivered a thrilling and eclectic set that included everything from Gershwin and The Beatles, to One Direction and John Legend. With each song came new and surprising revelations, about both the range of her skill and her ability to communicate with exactness and clarity.

 

While certain songs, such as Victor Young and Ned Washington’s somber and sincere “My Foolish Heart” and The Beatles’ “Blackbird” allowed Ms. Salonga to present a darker and more introspective shade, other tunes, such as the ukulele-driven “Nice Work If You Can Get It” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” were delightful expressions of pure fun (she asked us not to take “Blurred Lines” too seriously, given its somewhat iffy subject matter).

 

Ms. Salonga’s rendition of One Direction’s “Story of My Life” revealed a lower register that is as powerful and full as her vibrant soprano. The performance was as intoxicating as the song choice was unexpected. She brought a stirring stillness to Tracey Chapman’s “Fast Car” and impressed with a thought provoking mash-up of Leon Russell’s entreating “A Song for You” and Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin’s painful “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” Between songs, she regaled us with stories about her family, touched on politics, and spoke with charm about getting older. But the evening is all about the songs and it was thrilling to watch this master interpreter shine so brightly.

 

Lea Salonga is accompanied by her Music Director Larry Yurman on piano and Jack Cavari on guitar, and will be in residency at Feinstein’s/54 Below through April 17.

 

 

Lea Salonga. Through April 17 at Feinstein’s 54/Below (254 W. 54 Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues). Tickets: (646) 476-3551 or go to www.54below.com

 

Share