Sunday, May 27, 2007

Untold Pinoy Story No. 13

On Their Own

There was a time when one would not see the original Miss Saigon, Lea Salonga, without that familiar face behind her: Mrs. Saigon a.k.a. Joy a.k.a. Ligaya. That’s Lea’s mother.
And Ligaya Salonga was there wherever Lea went. Yes, they were always together. Everywhere. All the time.
But now that Lea has gotten married and she is now a Mrs. Saigon herself, Ligaya has disappeared from the picture.
Finally, Lea is on her own.

Lea’s fellow Repertory Philippines alumna, Monique Wilson, has also moved out of the shadow of her original theatre group, Repertory Philipines. Just like Lea, Rep (as it is more popularly called) honed Monique’s theatre talent since she was a small girl. Later, Monique took a theatre course in London. Upon Monique’s return, she organized her own theatre group, the New Voice Company, which was instrumental in bringing to Philippine stage those cutting-edge theatrical productions which no other theatre group would dare touch. Like The Vagina Monologues.
Finally, Monique is on her own.

Lea and Monique have really come a long way from that fateful audition day for Miss Saigon in a small function room at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

At the age of nine, Lea and Monique auditioned and subsequently appeared together in some Rep musicals, the most memorable of which was Annie. Lea played the title role while Monique played a relatively minor role.

Three thousand two hundred and eighty five tomorrows later, Lea and Monique were together again for an audition for Broadway producer Cameron Mackintosh’s latest venture. It was a new musical by the same team who brought the highly-acclaimed Broadway musical, Les Miserables: Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg. This new musical is called Miss Saigon, a modern retelling of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.

The competition for a role in Miss Saigon was fierce. All those who auditioned chose their respective song carefully in order to increase their chance of bagging the lead role in the year’s most anticipated musical. And the competition was really so fierce that even friends like Lea and Monique kept their audition song a secret from each other.

The audition team of highly respected composer Claude-Michel Schönberg, maverick Broadway producer Cameron Mackintosh (producer of Broadway blockbusters such as Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, etc.) and Tony award-winning director Nicholas Hytner (also the director of such acclaimed films as The Crucible, The Madness of King George, The History Boys, etc.) trooped to Manila to search for the actress who would play the lead role of Kim in Miss Saigon’s run in London’s West End before moving to Broadway. The idea of flying to Manila came after the audition team noticed that most of those who impressed them during their audition sessions in different parts of the United States had Filipino blood in them. This paved the way for the most exciting chapter of the search for Miss Saigon’s Kim which was compared to Hollywood’s search for Gone with the Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara.

Upon arrival in Manila, the audition team was astounded by the wealth of talents that they discovered there. All of Manila’s theatre and movie stalwarts showed up for the auditions. Sadly, many famous names did not make it during the initial and subsequent auditions, like Asia’s songbird Regine Velasquez, actress Rica Peralejo, belter Dulce, singer Roselle Nava, among many other familiar names.

But two young Filipina girls made it during the first audition session in Manila. Among those considered for the lead role of Kim were Lea Salonga and Monique Wilson. These two teeners have many things in common. They were both 18 years old. They both started doing theatre work with Repertory Philippines while they were little girls. They appeared together in some musicals, like Annie, The Sound of Music, among others. They were also both film actresses.

However, the similarity between them ends there. Because Lea and Monique have contrasting styles. If you saw both of them portray the role of Kim in Miss Saigon, you would come to one conclusion : Lea Salonga is a singer who can act while Monique Wilson is an actress who can sing. Yes, Lea is the better singer and Monique is the better actress. This was clearly evident during their respective audition.

During her audition for Miss Saigon, Lea sang a song composed by Miss Saigon composer and one of the audition panelists, Claude-Michel Schönberg. This song was a showstopper in the hit Broadway musical, Les Miserables, where it was sung by one of the musical’s most memorable characters, Eponine. Several years later, Lea Salonga would reprise the same audition song after she accepted the offer to play the role of Eponine in the Broadway production of Les Miserables. With this, Lea gained the distinction of being the first Asian to play the role of Eponine on Broadway. For this role, Lea had to wear a hat wherever she went in order to keep a Caucasian complexion. She also had her Asian nose transformed during each performance. In early 2007, Lea made another Broadway history when she became the first Asian to play the role of Fantine in the restaging of Les Miserables on Broadway.

In 1995, Lea also bagged the honor of singing her audition song in the hit show entitled, Les Miserables in Concert: The Dream Cast. In celebration of Les Miserables’ tenth year, this show gathered together the best actors/actresses who performed in the hit musical around the world for a concert in London’s Royal Albert Hall. Among several great stage actresses who played the part of Eponine during its ten-year run, Lea was chosen to play the part for this ultimate Les Miserables production. And Lea got to sing one of the musical’s most memorable songs which happened to be Lea’s audition song for Miss Saigon.

It must have been quite a thrill for Lea to reprise her audition song before a distinguished audience at the Royal Albert Hall in London together with the best stage performers around the world.

Lea has indeed come full circle from that fateful audition day for Miss Saigon in that small function room at the Cultural Center of the Philippines where she first sang her audition song.

As witnesses distinctly remember, Lea arrived at her audition for Miss Saigon dressed casually without any trace of facial make-up. Then there was silence in the audition room. And in her trademark crystal clear and crisp singing voice, Lea Salonga started singing her audition song.

Lea Salonga sang “On My Own” during her audition for Miss Saigon.

During the same Miss Saigon audition, Monique Wilson also came dressed casually with nary a trace of facial make-up. Then there was silence in the audition room. And in her trademark penetrating and heart-wrenching singing voice, Monique Wilson started singing her audition song.

Monique Wilson sang “On My Own” during her audition for Miss Saigon.

Yes, Lea Salonga and Monique Wilson sang the same song for their Miss Saigon audition.

And neither of them knew that the other will sing the same song.

And they both eventually portrayed the lead role of Kim in Miss Saigon’s original staging at West End’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

From thereon, they both worked their way to be on their own.

And, as we all know, the rest is history.

Images from,

NEXT: The Woman Who Played Haydee


Anonymous said...

i would have bagged the Kim role back then if only i had my boob and nose job back then.

Ogie would have been so proud of me.

Nick said...

It's just that there are certain kinds of voice which are better suited for musical plays and there are those which are not. And it just happened that Lea, Monique, Jamie (Rivera) and company possess that kind of voice. And the Miss Saigon guys were definitely not looking for someone who would sing Claude-Michel's songs "birit-style". But I admire Regine. She seems to be a genuinely nice person. Very down-to-earth.
And I'm sure that Ogie is mighty proud of her accomplishments.
Thanks, Pao.

Anonymous said...

pinoy pride! but, correct me if i'm wrong... lea salonga was never include in time's list of 100 most influential people... why d'you think is that? i mean... there is this wave of chinky-eyed imports to hollywood, gaining much ackonwledgment and fame... that zhang ziyi, e.g. - call it biased, but seriously, she's no match to lea salonga - talent at talent rin lang naman. whew! sad lang... we have no homegrown talents going to hollywood. we have lea and monique, and several of them, but... la lang, just thought of time's list. shouldn't they be part of it - memorable part of it...

Nick said...

Hey Anonymous.

Yes, Lea Salonga was never included in Time's 100 Most Influential People. Zhang Ziyi was at the right place at the right time. And she made it to Time’s list in 2005. She was lucky to have been chosen by Director Zhang Yimou after his falling out with his signature actress, Gong Li. And Zhang Ziyi's first movie with Zhang Yimou, "The Road Home", was really a gem. Check it out. Then, she appeared in the groundbreaking and Oscar-winning "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" which got the attention of Hollywood and paved the way for other Asian films. That movie really did it for her.

But I think that between the team of Director Ang Lee-Zhang Ziyi and the tandem of Director Zhang Yimou-Gong Li, the latter duo deserves as much recognition, if not more, than the former. The earlier collaboration between Zhang Yimou and Gong Li were cinematic masterpieces (The Story of Qiu Ju, Raise the Red Lantern, Red Sorghum, To Live, Judou, etc.). Check them out.

Lea had the opportunity during the peak of her popularity to conquer Hollywood via Oliver Stone's "Heaven and Earth" which would have teamed her up with Tommy Lee Jones but she objected to the violent rape scene, so she did not get the role. It would have been her big chance. She was very young then and the overprotective Ligaya Salonga was not open to the idea of a violent rape scene for her Lea.

I would appreciate if you would leave your name next time.

Thanks for dropping by.

Anonymous said...

hi nick! it's anne.
lea salonga is not very eager about the hollywood thing either i think... i mean zhang ziyi is subjected to this prejudice of being ambitious... and i agree, hers is being at the right place at the right time... anyway, i have this tendency to always make and make a big deal out of the filipino connection - that is, expecting and praying for filipinos to make it global. in the entertainment, we have a lot, but they are mestizos; and i go like, "sana full-fledged, homegrown, pure filipino..." - other than lea salonga, who else is that renowned, wala na ata. in the hollywood invasion, why is it always 'they', considering that the filipino speaks english... 'di ba? i've read somewhere that in the 70's, pinoys daw had always landed cameo roles in hollywood movies - there were kuh ledesma, bembol roco, among others. and it was mentioned that 'we once almost held hollywood under our feet, through barbara perez who was approached for a contract five times, but declined in all those five times as she chose to live a simple life here', juxtaposing this to the idea of the eager and restless quest for international fame of many local celebrities. wala lang... why aren't we making it now..? just what is wrong..?
there is the remake of sigaw, the echo, everyone from the country is helping out daw to include a filipino actor, baka daw maging ticket to hollywood. in the third quarter of the year, g toengi will make an international indie film, that might put the philippines on the global entertainment map.

thanks for communicating, by the way. looking forward to more stories!

haaynaku said...

hello nick!
i saw lea in the made for tv movie, Redwood Curtain with jeff daniels and john lithgow many years ago over hallmark channel.

i don't know but somehow, there was something awkward about the lea being side by side with these hollywood actors. it was either she didn't like them or she was trying too hard to fit in.

but then, like many pinoys, i was proud of her.

and yes, ogie is proud of regine. very proud, indeed.

Anonymous said...

'tis me again. i just thought, was it clear that i was anonymous? anyway, i was actually:)

rmacapobre said...

i saw lea playing kim in broadway but i was literally way at the back of the theater. right beside the door .. all i could make out of her were her legs ..

jam said...

I really enjoy reading your stories.

Can I link you up? =)

Anonymous said...

awesome tidbit!who would hace thought that they would sing the same song to audition for the same role. gad. cheers, nick!

wildpaw said...

Hey Nick, this is WildPaw. I reaaly admire your unique approach in writing your stories. . .very entertaining yet very elusive to the facts of which you're going to divulge then in the latter part of your story! Sana marami pang katulad mo na mapansin ang talento at mabigyang pagkakataon na mai-publish ang iyong mga artikulo o kwento. . .sa limbag na pamamaraan. Btw, may I know your true identity too, if you dont mind? Thanks and God Bless.

Anonymous said...

Nice blog!
I received your stories via e-mail and then a friend of mine showed the link to your blog.
Sana dumami pa collections ng stories mo!
Keep it up! good work!

The Occasional Eavesdropper said...

Your blog is so awesome that I make it appoint to check it every single day thinking that you might have new posts... Your writing style is such a wonder that your reader gets the feeling that they have to hold their breath until you divulge the characters... You rock! ;)

iFred said...

thanks for the info about the audition song... lea salonga will always be admired even by her non asian fans...

Anonymous said...

hi nick.. nice read! what drove you to write these? how did you learn about the issues? biggest shocker for me was the nida/ninoy angle.

keep them coming!


kubiyat said...

hello! great blog! this is riveting. i know absolutely nothing about plays, but i got hooked. i'll be baaack...

Anonymous said...

tagal ng kasunod :P

Anonymous said...

Hi Nick,

I absolutely enjoy your site! Greatest shocker for me was the story of the UP guys and that of Gary V. I knew that Felichi was his ex but I didn't know that there was his relationships with the sisters overlapped.

Regarding Miss Saigon, Regine received an invitation to be trained in London but she turned it down because she did not want to leave her family. I don't know if that training is equivalent to acceptance or assigned from the training she was actually accepted but for sure there was an invitation to be trained. And I think in one of Jamie Rivera's interviews, she said that Cameron was very impressed with Regine. Anyway, maybe you can ask your sources about that :))

Anonymous said...

Sending my message again with corrections:

Hi Nick,

I absolutely enjoy your site! Greatest shocker for me was the story of the UP guys and that of Gary V. I knew that Felichi was his ex but I didn't know that his relationships with the sisters overlapped.

Regarding Miss Saigon, Regine received an invitation to be trained in London but she turned it down because she did not want to leave her family. I don't know if that training is equivalent to acceptance or aside from the training she was actually accepted but for sure there was an invitation to be trained. And I think in one of Jamie Rivera's interviews, she said that Cameron was very impressed with Regine. Anyway, maybe you can ask your sources about that :))

Anonymous said...

hey, very intriguing blog! hope you can shed light on some other rumors that have turned into urban legends like 1)did tito vic & joey cause the death of a bold star? 2) was rosemarie sonora raped by marcos? 3) was imee marcos the lovechild of mayor lacson? 4) was alfie anido killed because he eloped with enrile's daughter?

Gina said...

I don't know about Lea being on her own. Maybe you meant , with major career decisions, she must have the last say. But with her domestic life- I see that Mrs. Salonga is very much in the picture as a very doting lola to Lea's daughter Nicole. I believe she even lives with Lea in NY. Impressions ko lang naman ito from my visits to Lea's Multiply site. Daming pictures doon with Mrs. Salonga =)
Very interesting entry. I see that there are many parallels between Lea & Monique's life esp. when it comes to theater.

The Purple Phoenix said...


I did not know that you wrote the Kiko-David article that's been circling the emails. My UP professor send it to me last week. I posted it in my blog and in another forum. I'll acknowledge your blog as a sign of courtesy.

Wow! I like the stories...though I'm quite familiar with most of it since I'm a true-blue chismosa. But the Kiko-David post caught me by surprise.

Our house helpers will be delighted when they hear that I've found the source of the email. I'll be translating it for them :)

I've also included you in my blog roll.

Keep on writing!


Nick said...

Hey Anne.
You sound like a genuine film enthusiast.
Thanks for sharing your Pinoy Hollywood connections. Yes, I know about them; Barbara, Bembol and Kuh in Hollywood movies.
Thanks for dropping by.

Hey Jo.
Yes, I also saw Lea's TV movie, Hallmark Channel's The Redwood Curtain. I even recorded it. But I did not really enjoy watching it. It's boring.
Thanks, Jo.

Hey Jam.
I'm glad that you enjoy reading my stories.
Yes, you may link me up.
Thanks for dropping by.

Hey Cheska.
How are you?
Thanks for dropping by.

Hey RMacapobre.
That's the first lesson I learned in watching stage plays/musicals. Know where you would be seated. Hope your next Broadway experience would be more pleasant.
Thanks for dropping by.

Hey Willy/Wildpaw.
Thanks for your kind words.
If you could gather at least 100 people who would buy a book containing 100 of these stories, then let's publish it. (Just kidding!)
Thanks for dropping by.

Hey Chad.
Thanks for your kind words.
Please extend my thanks to your friend for showing you the link to this blog.
I have many more stories to tell.
Thanks for dropping by.

Hey Ara.
Encouraging feedback from people like you energizes me whenever I am too lazy to write. Thanks.
Please watch out for my next story. I hope you like it, too.
Thanks for dropping by.

Hey iFred.
Yes, Lea is an international star. The Les Miserables producers are marketing its Broadway revival on the strength of Lea's appearance in the musical.
Thanks for dropping by.

Hey Maxine.
Thanks for your nice feedback.
Watch out for my next story.
Thanks for dropping by.

Hey Kubiyat.
Thanks for the kind words.
I'm hoping that you'll have fun reading my next story. Watch out for it.
Thanks for dropping by.

Hey Pao.
Yes, I know that I haven't posted a new story in a long time. (I momentarily forgot that I have a blog.) Thanks for always reminding me.
How's your trip? I'm sure that you had fun.
Thanks for always finding the time to drop by.

Hey Twinkle.
Regine must really be very close to her family that she chose them over the prospect of an international career. Isn't that every artist's (well, almost every artist)dream? Jamie Rivera sacrificed her relationship with her then boyfriend Jimmy Antiporda just to play the lead role in Miss Saigon. They both eventually ended up marrying someone else. Jimmy was against Jamie's decision to accept the role. (Just a thought: If Regine did not really want to leave her family, why did she go to the audition in the first place?)

Hey Anonymous.
Yes, I've heard all these stories. Except for the TV&J scandal which was tabloid headline for several days, the other stories were being talked about only in whispers due to the prevailing political climate.
I would appreciate if you would leave your name next time.
Thanks for dropping by.

Hey Gina.
Yes, Mrs. Salonga lives with Manang Lea in the latter's New York apartment. But Mrs. Salonga's attention has now shifted to her grandchild. She is indeed a doting lola to baby Nic. And whose lola isn't?
Thanks for dropping by.

Hey Jowana.
Did you say that one of my posts is being circulated in e-mails? I hope it doesn't get misinterpreted by whoever received it.
Thanks for dropping by.

Unknown said...

thanks for the info about their audition song. they should have included that in the video about the making of miss saigon. and i thought they sand different ones. such a coincidence!

Admin said...

hi nick, i'm glad i've discovered your really have interesting bits of pinoy stories here, and thank you for sharing them...

you seem really nice because you take the time to answer all comments here... ^_^

i'll be waiting for more of your posts... :-)

Anonymous said...

Twinkle is right!I remember very well that in one of Jamie Rivera's interview conducted by the late Inday Badiday in the 90's---Jamie said that all three of them (Jamie,Regine & Dulce) were invited by Cameron to fly to New York (for free) for the final audition. Apparently, Cameron was so impressed with the Filipina talents. Jamie added that it was actually Regine who almost bagged the "Kim" role but she backed out for some personal reasons.So the rumor that Regine failed in the audition is untrue.Dulce was also her usual best and was a blast during the audition but she was found over-qualified for any roles in Miss Saigon.If there was any consolation though, it was the fact that she was acknowledged as the best singer ever heard by Cameron. And Jamie, with her equally good singing and show-stopping performance eventually captured the role and was sent to London.Jamie was quick to add that getting the role didnt mean she was assured to play it because if it was discovered that she cant hold the Theater with her singing voice,or if she fails the sound test at West End, she will definitely be sent home. But obviouisly she did it with flying colors coz she played the lead for 2 years.

Anonymous said...

A friend who worked for a major sponsor of Miss Saigon mentioned that the audition for the show in Manila was fierce!Tough one indeed.Even professional and seasoned singers struggled to capture a role in the play. Reportedly, among those who definitely gave powerful performances but were not selected were Pop Diva Kuh Ledesma (unconfirmed), Ivy Violan (who won every singing competition in the world), angelic voice Carol Banawa, chanteuse Geneva Cruz, GMA7 champ Champagne Morales, Jazz singer Pam Gamboa, pretty Mirriam Pantig, Asian beauty Janet Arnaiz among others.Of course not being offered anything for a role did not lessen their beautiful singing at all. Anyway, mostly if not all, who played Kim & other major roles were singers from the Philippines and the list could go on and on.

Nick said...

Hey pinkroma.
Yes, you're absolutely right. It would have been a good idea to include that in the documentary DVD on the making of the musical.
Thanks for dropping by.

Hey jc.
I'm sorry that I did not get the chance to respond to your comment (and those of others, too)much earlier.
Thanks for the nice feedback and you are also most welcome.
I have more interesting stories to tell. And I'll keep on sharing them as long as you'll keep on reading them.
Please watch out for them.
I'm looking forward to hearing from you again.
Thanks for dropping by.

Hey enrique nixon.
Thanks for sharing those information.
Please do visit again.
Thanks for dropping by.

Anonymous said...

I was living in london when miss Saigon was being prepped-- & it was the talk of the west end. Just before it's debut--the south bank show-- an arts program on ITV featured the looking for this role-- & all the auditions world wide-- I will say this-- as soon as Lea entered the door & opened her mouth to sing? only a piano as accompaniment-- she 'sounded' so right. she really did. hytner, composer & lysricist-- etc were speechless for awhile-- then after her audition song-- they made her sing one of the actual finished songs fr Saigon.

there was a lot of publicity just it opened-her parents are all right.

Anonymous said...

I will add this,too;

as the comparision with Zhang Ziyi-- whose success is not a fluke or luck as a lot of Asians want to suppose even in china.

first off, Zhang Yimou never had any intention to use gong Li for the Road Home-- she was too old for this role-- ZY remembered ZZ to be right for it after meeting her in a commercial audition she didn't get.

It was ZY who recommended ZZ to Ang Lee when he was busy auditioning for CTHD-- he never thought he would find such an actress.As the role demanded specific acting chops.
I have seen ZZ twice now & really checked her out-- she's quite petite-- only 5'1 tops-- but she stands TALL-- & I don't mean high heels either--she's a real movie star from the old school. I didn't think she was drop dead gorgeous-- but her face is very striking with features that translate well on camera--she's quite girlish in person-- & her skin is fabulous-- translucent--rare for Asians-- the kind that picks up light. You can see it perfectly in House of Flying Daggers-- that was no lighting trick, that's real. For a small gal-- she's sure perfectly proportioned & practically boneless.

and she can act-- she has range-- she really does.It's not a surprise, top directors want to work with her.She's still only 28-- & what experiences she's had-- & she's dance trained why-- MA come easily for her.

Lea is a whole different type-- her talent mainly lies for the Stage-- she can get away doing more non-Asian roles as she has the talent to transcend race. but film is different-- wh caters more to realism.
I was just watching her on you tube-- fabulous! what a far cry when I first saw her in early days in London-- SHE REALLY IS A WORLD CLASS PERFORMER NOW-- and I do see the training she got prepping for Saigon wh she carries with her always. Hell, she was trained for over a year-- before Saigon debuted. the producers were worried tho she had the talent-- if she can carry 8 shows a week-- & her voice strong enough for it.

Regine should have taken up Cameron's offer-- I think she's great too-- but she would have really developed more with her gifts-- & be known world wide not just in Asia-- if she did.

ps- regine wouldn't have been right for Saigon-- but I do see why-- Cameron offered to train her.she really should have taken him up on it-- that kind of training -- with the best masters? money cannot even buy if you did yourself.
pps-- oops-- Lea had a nose job wh I noticed so fast when I saw her on American tv-- recording an album with Julie Andrews-- before her mucked up's not so wide's well done.

Anonymous said...

i meant Juie Andrews has a mucked up surgery! she had some throat nodule -non-cancerous, but the surgeon messed up! now she cannot sing anymore like she used to.

is this a great tragedy or what??? but she still looks fabulous- after a little tinkering with mother nature...........

My comment for the other Talent that audition for Saigon-- I'm sure they were/are great in their own way. but,like Nicholas Hynter said in the proloque in that So Bank show-- they were looking for a particular talent-- they were very precise about it--& a particular look & age-- as the role demanded.

then Lea walked in-- & that's that. they knew they found their lead-- just a few bars opening her mouth.

It was chilling-- I was watching this & I cried-- so moving.