The Adelaide Cabaret Festival weekend getaway, or what I affectionately call the “Lea weekend” was something I had been looking forward to for quite a while!
When I visited the Philippines in March, Lea was kind enough to invite me to a rehearsal for her “Legends and the Classics” concert. There I asked her if she was definitely coming to Adelaide. She said yes, but was unable to announce it until the festival organizers made the official announcement. So I patiently (or rather impatiently) kept it a secret, but as soon as it was officially announced, I blasted it over social media, as I knew this was going to be a significant moment for the Filipino-Australian community.
Fellow Filipina-Australian Kate Ceberano had been appointed as this year’s Artistic Director of the festival and Lea Salonga was to be the headline act for the opening weekend. It was also going to be Lea’s first public performance in Australia (her previous two trips were only for “Cats The Musical” rehearsals). There was no way in the world that I was going to miss this momentous occasion!
I flew to Adelaide at 6am on Saturday morning with my mother, my cousin (a hardcore Lea fan since her childhood in the Philippines) and her two friends. That afternoon, Lea and I worked out that we were staying at the same hotel and organised to catch up for lunch the next day, but I told her I would see her at her show that evening.
When we arrived at the Festival Theatre lobby, I could feel the excitement in the air, as I stood among the Filipinos, musical theatre buffs and Disney fans who had flown in from around Australia for Lea Salonga’s first Australian concert.
Once inside, I was impressed with the second row seats that mum and I had scored, especially since I hadn’t even selected them (but that’s a story for another day). When Lea finally walked on stage there was uproar in the packed out 2000 seat venue!
She began singing the first few lines of “Something’s Coming” and looked around at the sea of faces, to acquaint herself with her audience. She seemed delighted when she spotted me right in front of her. She gave me a little nod and a huge smile to acknowledge that she had found me and that’s when it hit me…. I was finally fulfilling a dream! A dream I’ve had since my early teens and one that I’m sure I share with many Filipino-Australians of my generation.I couldn’t believe I was FINALLY experiencing Lea’s incredible talent LIVE in concert in my home country and not just on youtube!That magical night was an emotionally charged experience! I was completely in awe of Lea’s superb artistry and was totally blown away and overwhelmed the whole time! Everyone I spoke to after the concert, shared the same sentiments (unsurprisingly). Lea sang musical theatre masterpieces that represent some of her career highlights to date, the ones that everyone had been dying to hear – there were breathtaking deliveries of “I Dreamed a Dream” and “On My Own” from her Broadway stint with Les Miserables, and of course we were transported to Saigon when the original Kim sang a passionate rendition of “I’d Give My Life for You”, which she dedicated to the mothers in the audience.
She also sang beautiful renditions of Disney songs that epitomised her time as a ‘Disney princess’. “Reflection” really struck a chord with me, as it had played a major part of the “soundtrack of my life” during my teens and early twenties. I was quite choked up, but then again, I was choked up for most of the night anyway.
“A Whole New World” was HIGHLY entertaining - the guy sitting next to me was chosen to sing the duet with her. Ian Mears, what a bloke! I don’t think Lea will ever forget him. He knew the harmonies and everything! It was also lovely that Lea chose to sing songs that were not from roles she had portrayed, just because she felt like it.
Of those songs, “For Good” from Wicked, was the most memorable for me. Leading into it, she spoke of all the people she has crossed paths with in her life and how these encounters have left their mark on her. As she sang the lines “I have been changed for good”, I reflected on how blessed I felt in my own life, to have crossed paths with this generous artist.
The post-concert autograph signing was a very proud moment for me as a Filipina-Australian. I didn’t line up, as I knew I was catching up with her the next day anyway. Instead, I played paparazzi to the paparazzi. I took photos of the throngs of people eagerly waiting for a photo with Lea. The lines of Filipino-Australians and non-Filipino Australians, seemed to go on forever!
Even Lea told me she wasn’t expecting it to be THAT huge! Everyone was in love with Lea, who Kate Ceberano called “a jewel in our crown” as Filipinos. That weekend, Lea kept expressing her reciprocal love for Australia, too.
As someone who has grown up as part of the “Joy Luck Club” generation (but the Filipina-Australian version), I could not have been prouder! The conversations that took place during post-show drinks with friends that I bumped into and new friends that I made, prove that this sense of cultural (Filipino) and national (Australian) pride, was a collective experience.
Rosary Coloma is a Sydney-based writer, curator, producer and creative director, with a background as an artist herself. Also an MBA (major in Arts Management) student, she has been involved in high-profile projects such as the Sydney Fringe Festival and London Design Festival. You can follow her on Twitter @rosecoloma.