Starring Lea Salonga, in the role of "Mommy"

Starring Lea Salonga, in the role of Mommy
By Walter Ang
November-December issue 2011
Moms Today Magazine

Lea Salonga was thrust into international stardom when she landed the lead role of Kim in the musical "Miss Saigon" in West End, London and then on Broadway, USA, winning top awards from both countries. Many years and notable roles later, she's still on top of her game, having recently performed as Grizabella in the musical "Cats" right here in Manila.

As she travelled the globe for her numerous projects, sharing her singing with countless audiences, she found love and got married to Robert Charles Chien. Initially based in the US, Chen was assigned for work in Manila and the couple has been staying here for the past few years.

Nicole Beverly was soon part of their family. While her daughter and husband are priorities for Salonga, it hasn't stopped her from continuing with her career. "Whenever I know I'll be away from home for an extended period of time, I'll bring Nicole with me," she says.

The family has traveled to many different cities together. "I would say that one of my favorite cities would be New York, only because of the variety of activities it offers. There's so much for a kid to do in that city. There are museums, park; you name it, they have it," she says.

Family and food 
Salonga notes, however, that family plays a part in what makes a travel destination desirable. "We have relatives in Los Angeles and other cities. That's what makes it special for Nicole. She gets to play with friends, godparents, cousins."

And of course, there's always the food choices. "We're planning on going to Singapore for my husband's birthday soon. I asked him what he wanted and he said all he wanted to do was eat. Done!" she says laughing.

Salonga and her husband try to be as accommodating as they can for Nicole's birthday wishes as well. "If she wants a tea party, we try to do what we can to make it happen for her," she says.

This is not to say that Salonga spoils her daughter. In fact, her parenting style leans toward encouraging Nicole to be as independent as possible. "When she wants something, we always say, 'Okay, get it yourself.' Of course, there are things she really can't do at her age, say, zipping up the back of her dress, but for the things she can appropriately tackle at her age, we want her to learn to stand on her own."

Salonga started in theater and showbusiness just as other children were just beginning their schooling. At the age of seven, she was cast as one of the children in the musical "The King and I" and eventually headlined the musical "Annie." She also hosted her own television show co-hosted with brother Gerald, who is now an accomplished conductor.

She trained with one of the pioneering English-language theater companies in Manila, Repertory Philippines, under its founder, the late Zeneida Amador. Amador was known to be a strict disciplinarian and treated adults and children equally.

"Training with Rep back then was pretty tough," she says. "Not every kid or parent found it easy to adhere to the way things were run." Given her experiences growing up and having been exposed to different cultures, Salonga strives to use a more balanced approach with Nicole.

"Sometimes we let her do whatever she wants because she can be very stubborn and headstrong if she wants to be," she says laughing. "There's always a little bit of both discipline and being laid back. It's just finding the right proportions."

Balance Salonga repeatedly highlights her desire for Nicole to become "very much her own person." "I want her to grow up asking questions and deciding things for herself. Sometimes it's not enough that I tell her to do something, she'll ask me for a reason. Of course, she's still a little girl, so sometimes I know she's just being makulit and I'll say, `Now hold on there, you're just toying with me now," she says laughing.

Salonga definitely walks the talk. On top of her singing and performing engagements, she also writes a column for a newspaper and maintains a blog (, both avenues for where she occasionally shares her thoughts on issues in the headlines. No scripts here to follow, these are all her own opinions.

She's written down reasons why she's for the passing of the Reproductive Health Bill as well as why barangays should not meddle in what residents buy in drugstores.

"Yes, I am all for a measure guaranteeing reproductive health services for many of our country's people, especially expectant mothers that need emergency obstetric care in case of a miscarriage or pre-term labor. There have been enough maternal deaths in the country that an RH measure is imperative," she has noted in her blog.

Open, frank and earnest, Salonga also recently announced in her column that she's turned forty, proud of where she is and thankful for "the blessing that is my life: great husband, wonderful daughter, fabulous mother, awesome brother ... and a valuable clutch of friends. I have the greatest job in the world and the most fantastic fans. And I've got my health. Right now, I'm the luckiest woman alive."

She says that turning forty has also made her feel that she's much more outspoken now. "At this age, I've lived long enough to be able to say `To hell what other people think!' I follow the dictates of my conscience. This is what I've learned and this is what I believe."

These current issues that have reached public consciousness have reminded parents of the challenges that face the complex task of raising children. Salonga says, "It's difficult to say what dangers are out there, it could be different for every family, for every person, but what I ask myself is `Am I doing right by my child?'"

In the same way that Salonga is not afraid to be vocal about what she feels is wrong in society, she wants Nicole to "question what's going on." There are no double standards for this mother: "I want her to challenge even us, her parents," she says. "I want her to understand why things are the way they are, and not just because other people say things have to be a certain way."

Kicking back 
In the meantime, away from the public eye, Salonga has dolls to play with. "Nicole loves her dolls and makes me play with her," Salonga says.

So far, Nicole has not expressed any interest (yet) of following in her mother's footsteps towards a life in the spotlight. "I don't want to force something on her that she may not like. For me, whatever gifts she has, we will nurture," she says.

Salonga beams when she says that Nicole has shown interest in drawing. "She's more of a visual person. She also likes fashion a lot and makes fashion choices far better than I did at her age," she says with a grin.

Both Salonga and her husband are unabashed video game players, with a whole array of consoles from the Playstation 3 to a recently acquired Kinect wireless controller for their Xbox 360. "Of course there are some games that are for adults, but when the portions are pretty much tame, like riding through the fields or collecting items, we'll let Nicole play."

The family kicks back by having food adventures, whether in restaurants or at home. "We recently had a get together at home and Nicole tried eating duck!" says Salonga, visibly proud that her daughter was open to trying new things.

"Nicole also likes to dance and moves around a lot. She's constantly in motion," she says. Of course, this may be very well a case of `like mother, like daughter.' "I get bored really easily. If I'm on vacation, three days is the most I can go doing nothing," she says with laugh.

Her drive, energy, passion and dedication to her craft has won her accolades, including an award each from former presidents Corazon Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Even though she's essayed some of the most coveted roles on stage, there are still few that Salonga would like to tackle, such as Evita Peron in "Evita," Lady of the Lake in "Spamalot," Elphaba in "Wicked," and Diana in "Next to Normal."

"When I wasn't married, I could devote myself to the process of rehearsals, of doing a run," she says.  "It's night after night of devoting your whole being into this singular purpose. While it would be fun, right now, being in a run of a production isn't the biggest on my priorities."

Of course, because Salonga is currently devoting her whole being into the singular purpose of raising her family.