Lea Salonga, back on Broadway: 'There has been zero video game time for me'

Lea Salonga, back on Broadway: 'There has been zero video game time for me'
By Walter Ang
Oct. 24, 2015
Philippine Daily Inquirer

When Lea Salonga got a chance to meet an actor from the original "Star Trek" TV series, she did not pass it up.

"Yes, I'm a nerd, and was very excited," she says.

In 2009, she was invited to the home of George Takei in California to join the cast of a new musical he was going to be part of.

Her "first contact"--to use a Star Trek term--with Takei was even announced on Twitter: "OMG. I'm at Sulu's house!" she tweeted.

Takei and the producers of the musical "Allegiance" wanted only Salonga to fill a role in the show.

That meeting resulted in the first public reading of the show, held at the Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles.

Salonga has been working on the show since then. After laboratory work in New York, a world premiere in San Diego in 2012, and more laboratory work back in New York, "Allegiance" began previews this month on Broadway and will officially open next month.

"Going along on this journey with George has been one incredible ride," says Salonga, "and to see his face at the end of every performance is such a joy. He beams, pardon the 'Star Trek' pun, with pride that this, his legacy project, is now being played on a Broadway stage. So amazing."

The musical is inspired by the time Takei's family was forcibly incarcerated during World War II. He was five years old when his family was removed from their Los Angeles home and transferred to converted horse stables in California and then to interment camps in Arkansas.

More than 100,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry suffered this act of racist paranoia after Japan attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941.

Salonga revealed in a previous interview with Inquirer that Takei's family was eventually relocated again to "a camp in Tule Lake, California, a facility reserved for the most rebellious of internees."

Takei's family returned to LA after the war, and he rose to fame in 1965 when he was cast as starship helmsman (spaceship pilot) Sulu in "Star Trek." (The character's original name was inspired by the Sulu Sea in the Philippines; a first name, Hikaru, was added only in novels and movies after the series ended.)

"Allegiance" follows siblings Sam (Takei) and Kei (Salonga) Kimura as they cope with relocation to an internment camp.

On Broadway, after winning a Tony award for playing Kim in "Miss Saigon" in the '90s, Salonga played Mei-Li in "Flower Drum Song" in 2002, and Eponine (the first Asian to play the part) and Fantine in "Les Miserables." She has done several concerts in Manhattan as well.

"It feels pretty damn fantastic to be back on Broadway," she says. "Doing one-off concerts is also amazing, but there's something to be said about creating a role on Broadway. It's not often that I've had that opportunity, so I'm really mining the experience for all it's worth."

To prepare for the role, she looked to her own family for emotional and historical connections to the show's subject matter: her husband Robert Chien is of Chinese-Japanese descent; he has relatives who served during the war, and his mother was able to escape being interned.

Salonga is known for playing video games for fun and to relax backstage, but she says, "There has been zero video game time for me. My life is way too busy with previews! It will be crazy for the rest of the preview period, it will continue to be.

"My brain sometimes feels like it's going to explode, what with memorizing new things in the afternoon that will go into the show that same night. It's nuts."

In the show, with music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and book by Marc Acito, Salonga sings a soaring solo, "Higher."

"Thankfully it has been retained, along with a few songs from the San Diego staging," she explains. "I have some brand-new duets for Broadway, but a lot of the show is still in flux, so today's information could be obsolete by tomorrow."

Revisions and edits to the show should be locked down by the time it opens in November.

Where to eat near Longacre Theater
Meanwhile, Salonga gets some downtime whenever her husband and daughter Nicole Beverly visit her.

"We try to get to Sushi Gari on West 46th Street," she says, "Rob and I attack the omakase platter, placing our complete trust in the sushi chefs."

She adds: "My mom Ligaya has been here with me, so most of the time, I eat and enjoy her cooking."

For audiences who will go watch "Allegiance," she recommends "basically any of the restaurants on Restaurant Row, West 46th Street, as well as the ones on 9th Avenue."

"Right by the Longacre Theater are Hurley's Saloon (American and seafood) and Pongsri (Thai), both of which are really good."

Asked if there would be a "Star Trek musical" in the future and if she were to choose between playing a Ferengi starship captain or a villain Borg Queen, Salonga answers, "I'll choose Borg Queen."

So now, fans of Salonga and "Star Trek" will know what costume to wear if they can get tickets to the Oct. 31 Saturday Halloween evening show, designated as "Star Trek" Night.

There will be a post-show talkback session with Lea Salonga at the Oct. 31 Saturday matinee. "Allegiance" is currently in previews. It opens Nov. 8 at Longacre Theatre, New York City. For tickets, visit allegiancemusical.com.

Published online at Inquirer.net on Oct. 26, 2015: