Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Peek-a-Books #1

"All books are either dreams or swords,
You can cut, or you can drug, with words."


Note: My Bedside Companions for the last 2 1/2 Weeks...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lea Salonga puts Tarrytown under her spell

Despite having to run almost two miles from the other end of the Terminal to catch the Northwest Airlines Flight from Detroit-Metropolitan Wayne County Airport to La Guardia, having missed our original morning flight earlier, we were still in a very good mood.

And flying all the way from Michigan two days before the event and then “hitching” a ride from the Bronx to Tarrytown, New York on the day of the concert with old friends in tow in exchange for the promised prime concert seats, we were in cruise control.

The uneventful 30-minute trip on the slow, lazy road to this little picturesque village on the eastern shore of the Hudson River did not dampen our enthusiasm a bit. We arrived at historic Tarrytown at quarter past seven on the cool and chilly evening of November 2. We were in high spirits in anticipation of a wonderful evening of music at the Tarrytown Music Hall.

Yes, we traveled far for the much-awaited concert of Broadway Star and Tony Award Winner Lea Salonga in this side of Westchester County, New York.

As we walked from the parking lot, braving the wind chill gnawing at our bodies and numbing our skin, I couldn’t help but notice that Tarrytown is really quite old, small and dark compared to the other places that I have been to.

Tarrytown has that distinctive air of the old world with clusters of Victorian and Gothic revival houses built in the late 1800s and early 1900s lining its narrow streets. And what with Sleepy Hollow just a stone’s throw away only added to its allure and mystique, at least for a history buff like me.

In fact, pictures of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman suddenly materializing out of nowhere circled in my mind as I turned the uphill corner towards the venue. But tonight, Washington Irving’s character from his classic, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, will take a back seat to the Lady of the Night.

As we neared the Music Hall, we suddenly realized that Tarrytown has turned into a Pinoy Town. In every street and corner, bar and cafe, store and restaurant, one could see and hear the unmistakable sound and presence of the Filipinos who came with full force.

This I can say, Filipinos really know how to party and can be counted upon to support a very talented kababayan as she tries to wield her magic again in Uncle Sam’s America. There were a lot of American fans too who flew in from as far as Texas and California. Some even drove for hours from Canada and various places on the East Coast. The majority of them, of course, came from New York and neighboring New Jersey.
They all came with one purpose and one purpose only -- to hear once again this song bird who has captivated the ears of the world since she was 17, when after a global search she was chosen to essay the role of Kim in the hit musical Miss Saigon, to which she never looked back.

The Music Hall on Main Street was built in 1885 and is one of the oldest theaters in Westchester County, where various luminaries from US Presidents (Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft & Woodrow Wilson) to legendary musicians (Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, etc.) among others have once graced its hallowed grounds.


The concert did not start on time, although the musicians were on stage before the 8pm call time, but since heaps of people were still pouring in and also queueing for the restrooms, the musicians bade their time until Bjorn Olsson, the Executive Director of the Music Hall, appeared on stage to welcome everybody with a crisp and effortless “Mabuhay!” which he confessed he had learned a few minutes before he went up the stage.

He proceeded to his short and concise speech and finally called on Lea Salonga, who casually sauntered onto the stage in a simple but elegant black pantsuit, went for the microphone, and then those old familiar lines from Stephen Sondheim’s SOMETHING'S COMING came out flowing like a cool breeze into the warm night air.

Could be, who knows?
…If I can wait, something’s coming, I don’t know what it is, but it is gonna be great…

It was a very appropriate opening number for Lea and surely an omen of things to come for the mesmerized audience who erupted into thunderous applause at the end of the song from West Side Story.

After greeting her Kababayans in the audience, she shared to us that it was the first time for her to hear a non-native speaker pronounce “Mabuhay” correctly, and opined that as a Filipino she doesn’t want to hear Mabuhay being butchered, to the delight of the large Filipino crowd.

She then told us that for our listening pleasure, she had put together songs “that I personally enjoy, songs that have in one way or another been associated with me.”
And this being her first concert in many, many months, she wanted it to be special, and added to the audience‘s amusement, “You have no idea how it feels to sing without having to cry! All of you who have seen Les Miz in the past seven months know what I mean,” in obvious reference to her role as the tragic Fantine in the Broadway revival of Les Miserables, where she brought back to life the character that Daphne Rubin-Vega killed.

People just couldn’t get enough of her as the cameras kept on flashing without let-up, prompting her to ask the concertgoers to "go easy on the cameras” and revealed that her “eyesight must have graded more, from the ‘strobing’” and that she might “have an epileptic attack” in the process, although she quickly added that although she doesn’t have epilepsy, she didn't want to “start that right now, seriously” and politely asked us to just “relax, sit back and enjoy the show.”

Lea Salonga’s voice was so pure that when she sang I’VE NEVER BEEN IN LOVE BEFORE from the Musical Guys and Dolls, it was like hearing the confession of a young and innocent girl, where one could really feel the simple yet heartfelt message of the song.

Then she reminisced about her early years as a performer wherein she shared that she used to sing on top of the table, to the delight of her mother, and can still vividly remember her first standing ovation at age 8 in a “blue dress and white cardigan and suffering from an allergy attack” on the day of her audition, landing the lead role for Repertory Philippines’ production of Annie The Musical that eventually paved the way to her pursuing a career in show business.

She sang TOMORROW in an up-tempo manner and got away with it. She sang it in a way that one couldn’t help but think that the song was and still magical in Lea’s capable hands after all these years. It was well-applauded and I’m sure many in the audience were having flashbacks of that cute little girl singing this very familiar tune on black and white TV many, many years ago and half a world away.

The star of the night admitted that even after years of being in the business, “there’s still quite a few roles I’d like to play. Hopefully, one day I’ll get the opportunity” as she rendered a haunting and beautiful rendition of I DON'T KNOW HOW TO LOVE HIM from the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar and made a very good case for herself for the role of Mary Magdalene.

If only Andrew Lloyd Webber was in the audience…

Ms. Salonga paid homage to Mr. Lloyd Webber by declaring that she found the very talented songwriter to be “incredibly prolific” and confessed a role she has coveted for most of her life, showing her wit in the process to the delight of everyone--

“A role that I always had my eye on from when I was quite young but even at my age now… Fine, I’m 36! But I still look darn hot!”

And added feeling intimidated by the role despite coveting it badly.

“Even though I’m older than the person upon whom the show was based when she passed away. It’s still a part of musical theater canon for female singers, it intimidates me incredibly and I am not yet brave enough to tackle her on” but swiftly added that when the right time comes, she’ll be able to handle them like the rest.

YOU MUST LOVE ME from Evita the Movie came next and it’s not even fair to Madonna to merit a discussion here of the vocal discrepancies between her and Lea.

Lea Salonga’s voice can melt the heart of any strong man and surely is capable of capturing the hearts of a thousand Perons, too. Evita is one role that she can do without question, if you ask me. I am sure the people who heard her sing live that night and the ones who have heard her before will surely agree with me.

And she shared to us a funny little secret about a role that,

“I’ve wanted sooooo bad that while I was in Miss Saigon I kept dropping hints & not very subtle ones either“... to Cameron Mackintosh, perhaps?

“Yeah, I’d like to play Eponine in Les Miserables.”

And her ploy was amply rewarded when--

“I was very fortunate to be asked not too long after I left Miss Saigon to be a part of the big production“ and sang the most applauded song of the night that merited a standing ovation from the crowd.

It was her audition song for Miss Saigon, ON MY OWN.

Then she sang the Tagalog song, HAHANAPIN KO that was composed by Jose Mari Chan and popularized by Anthony Castelo in the 1980s and dedicated the song to “all the Filipinos that have left the country and still love our Motherland.”

Buckets of tears flowed from the Pinoy concertgoers as her smooth and soulful rendition of the ballad touched the hearts of so many of us Filipinos who have not returned to the old country in years. The song and the tears became a form of catharsis for many of us because not only does it link us to our past, it also reminded us of Home…

Her solemn version of SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, from the musical Oh, Kay! by the prolific duo George and Ira Gershwin, added another dimension to the concert and with only a guitar accompanying her, the song became even more personal and meaningful…

“Although he may not be the man some
Girls think of as handsome
To my heart he carries the key…”

Suddenly somebody from the audience sneezed loudly and like the trooper that she is, she blurted out “Bless You!“ in between the song lyrics and went on to sing the song in its entirety without missing a beat even as the audience was now laughing their hearts out. The sneezing bandit was never identified but surely, nobody would have liked to be in her/his shoes that night. Ha-ha.

Lea Salonga is an artist who knows how to interact with her audience and can really play with the crowd.

We all know that she became a Disney Princess not only once, but twice but she explained to us good-naturedly her apprehensions about it--

“My daughter would probably not believe that Mommy got to do that and is probably looking at me rolling her eyes!”

You can tell by the way she talked that she’s one proud mother to Nicole as she further confessed that her fears have some basis when she said,

“She’s ignoring me already and she’s only 17 months old!”

She did sing the two Disney songs from Aladdin and Mulan but with just the short Princess Jasmine part of A WHOLE NEW WORLD for the former, and a different and more complete version of REFLECTION for the latter.

She intimated that she got to record the "long original” version from Mulan but executives at Disney only released the short version for the movie, and as a form of “revenge” she always sings the complete version in her concerts.

A parade of beautiful songs highlighted the second part of the show and it was a blast seeing Lea’s expressions change from song to song--

--Her phrasing’s perfect, her diction impeccable and her voice crystal. Her effortless singing can literally and figuratively take you to a whole new world of musical magic.

She proclaimed that she loved ABBA and one can discern her respect for the immense talent of Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus in the song she chose to sing from the musical Chess.

Her poignant SOMEONE ELSE'S STORY can make you cry unabashedly without regard for anybody.

She can make you high and giggle with her sweet and girlish interpretation of the Kristin Chenoweth’s original “TAYLOR, THE LATTE BOY", one of the most applauded numbers of the night.

WHEN OCTOBER GOES was written by Johnny Mercer just before he died of cancer in 1976, and accompanied by a beautiful albeit melancholic melody that Barry Manilow composed in honor of his friend. Lea gushed how Manilow, known more for his cheesy compositions, was able to pen such a beautiful song. She fell in love with the song so much that she included it in her latest album “Inspired.”

You could see the smoke in Lea’s eyes when she admitted that she had her own share of heartaches, too. But she did not give up on love and in the end found the man of her dreams.

She opened her heart to us and dedicated the next song, I STILL BELIEVE IN LOVE, from the musical They‘re Playing Our Song, “to all the singles out there” and asked them to “never give up on love.”

The very emotional I'D GIVE MY LIFE FOR YOU put the music hall in silence and induced goosebumps on our skin, even 18 years after we first heard her sing that now classic song from Miss Saigon of what every mother would/can do for her offspring.

The night would not have been complete without the song that brought her back to Broadway. Her crystalline voice soared anew as she gave life to the Les Miserables' tragic character, Fantine, in I DREAMED A DREAM...

"But the tigers come at night, with their voices soft as thunder. As they tear your hope apart. As they turn your dream to shame!"

Lea showed us here her versatility as she shifted from one difficult note to another in an effortless show of vocal prowess, not to mention her heartbreaking interpretation of the song. She did it with much aplomb to the delight of the audience.

I have never heard Billy Joel’s homage to the Big Apple sang as beautifully as Lea did. In NEW YORK STATE OF MIND, she bared that she would never get away from New York, that no matter what she will always come back to New York. She considers the Big Apple as her home away from home.

The medley of SOMETHING WONDERFUL/BEING ALIVE from the musicals The King and I and Company, respectively, have in a way summed up the wonderful evening with Lea Salonga. I guess you could safely call it a night of enchantment in the enchanted village called Tarrytown.

Her encore of the Beverly Craven original and carrier single of her album "Inspired", PROMISE ME was hauntingly touching and well-received. I can say that she gave justice to the song and owned it in the process.

The concert lived up to its promise and it was a night to remember forever. Lea Salonga came aptly prepared to give her fans their money’s worth and she did not disappoint. Her song selections complimented her voice really well. The venue was suited for a more intimate and personal approach and she exploited them to her advantage.

The years have been kind to her, too and she really has matured as a singer and a performer -- confident, poised, witty, charming and beautiful.

And of course, She’s HOT!

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