by Lia Chang
I recently had lunch at The Strand Bistro in New York with Tony Award-winning actress and recording artist Lea Salonga (Miss Saigon) to celebrate her return to Broadway as Kei Kimura in Allegiance, a new American musical.
Lorenzo Thione, one of the producers for Allegiance, also was on hand and expressed his affection for Salonga and his appreciation of her dedication to the project, which has been seven years in the making.
“Allegiance has given me some of the most amazing opportunities in my entire life, and one was getting to work with Lea,” said Thione. “She was part of every single incarnation, and would make her way from Manila to be with us for a reading, a workshop, and of course, for our world premiere. A lot has changed. Her name is not even the same from the original character she played. I am so excited that she’s chosen Allegiance to come back to Broadway, after all these many years.”
Salonga’s co-stars include Star Trek’s George Takei in his Broadway debut as Sam Kimura/Ojii San, and Telly Leung as Sammy Kimura (Godspell, Flower Drum Song, “Glee”). Takei dropped by The Strand Bistro to surprise her.
“I’m really excited,” said Salonga. “Yesterday, we had a photo session with me, George and Telly, and we posted a couple of pictures on instagram wearing costumes from the world premiere out in San Diego. I saw myself with makeup and my brand new wigs. I saw myself in the clothes. It was fabulous. I had to hold on to Telly Leung and tell him, ‘this is really happening. It’s really happening.'”
Allegiance will make Salonga’s return to Broadway after an eight year absence. She last played Fantine in the hit show Les Miserables in 2007.
“It’s as if the universe has conspired to bring this show into New York City during a very colorful season of brand new work,” she said. “We feel it’s a wonderful time to come in. If we had come in at any other season, or any other time, the show might not have been the right fit for the environment that it would have been going into. The timing of it feels perfect”
The show has changed somewhat since it debut in San Diego which attracted rave reviews and record audiences at the Old Globe Theater in 2012.
“I’m excited to be witnessing George Takei make his Broadway debut at the age of 78, and to be working with this company. To get to work with Telly Leung, who made his Broadway debut with me in Flower Drum Song, to get to work with so many people who are making their Broadway debuts, it’s nice to be able to see that. We are doing this in a real entertainment community, where every show is not just a show, but it’s a family of people working to tell a story. And in every Broadway theater, that is what happens and I’m only too proud to be a part of that history.”
As previously announced, Allegiance has a book by Marc Acito with music and lyrics by Jay Kuo. Helming the production is Olivier Award nominee Stafford Arima (London’s Ragtime, Off-Broadway’s Bare, Carrie, Altar Boyz).
The cast also features Katie Rose Clarke as Hannah Campbell, Michael K. Lee as Frankie Suzuki, Christopheren Nomura as Tatsuo Kimura and Greg Watanabe as Mike Masaoka.The ensemble includes Aaron J. Albano, Belinda Allyn, Marcus Choi, Janelle Dote, Dan Horn, Owen Johnston, Darren Lee, Manna Nichols, Autumn Ogawa, Rumi Oyama, Momoko Sugai, Cary Tedder, Elena Wang, Scott Watanabe and Scott Wise.
Allegiance is inspired by the real life childhood of Takei, the original and beloved Mr. Sulu from Star Trek, film and television star, activist and social media icon. Traversing the lush California heartland, the windswept prairies of Wyoming and the battlefields of war-torn Europe, Allegiance tells the epic multi-generational tale of deep family loyalty, romance, humor, optimism and unparalleled heroism in the face of fear and prejudice against Japanese Americans during World War II and beyond.
Allegiance will begin previews at the Longacre Theatre (220 West 48th Street) on Tuesday, October 6, 2015 with opening night set for Sunday, November 8, 2015. Click here to purchase tickets. For more information go to www.AllegianceMusical.com
In 1991, Salonga became the first Asian to win a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for Miss Saigon. In addition to the Tony, Salonga has won the Olivier, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Theatre World Awards.
She was also the first Asian to play Eponine in LES MISERABLES on Broadway and returned to the show as Fantine in the 2006 revival. Salonga most recently wrapped touring with Il Divo for the group’s worldwide “A Musical Affair” tour, and her concert at Town Hall in March was a sold-out engagement. When not on tour, Lea is a coach on the Philippine version of the hit “The Voice”.
Prior to that, Salonga garnered a Craig Noel nomination for Outstanding Featured Performance in the world premiere of Allegiance at the Old Globe Theater is San Diego. She was also seen in God of Carnage in Manila, Philippines and Singapore.
Fans of all ages recognize Lea as the singing voice of Princess Jasmine from Aladdin and Fa Mulan for Mulan and Mulan II. For her portrayal of the beloved princesses, the Walt Disney Company bestowed her with the honor of “Disney Legend” in August of 2011.
In 2010, she participated in the 25th Anniversary Concert of LES MISERABLES to sold- out crowds at the UK’s O2 arena and dazzled as the hauntingly tragic Grizabella in a limited run of CATS in Manila.
Honored with an appointment as a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Goodwill Ambassador in October of 2010, Ms. Salonga vowed to act as an advocate for the Youth and United Nations Global Alliance initiative led by the FAO. In her 30-year career, Ms. Salonga has performed for six Philippine presidents (from Ferdinand Marcos to Begnino Aquino, III.), three American Presidents (George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush), and for Diana, Princess of Wales and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
In 2002, she starred as a Chinese immigrant in a David Henry Hwang’s revisal of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song, on Broadway, opposite Jose Llana. The Salonga-led Broadway revival cast album was also a top contender at the 2003 Grammy Awards for Best Musical Show Album. An avid techie and gamer, Lea divides her time between Manila, Philippines with her family and the United States.
Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon and Taxman. She has guest starred on “One Life to Live,” “As the World Turns,” and “New York Undercover.” She is profiled in Jade Magazine.