updated 1 Mar 2009, 00:01
    Powered by
user id password
Sun, Jan 18, 2009
The New Paper
EmailPrintDecrease text sizeIncrease text size
Her main role now is mummy
by Germaine Lim

SHE may be Cinderella on stage, but to Lea Salonga the real princess is her daughter, Nicole.

Lea said: "She (Nicole) loves all things princessy. She loves wearing pink and opts for it everytime. It's like she's hard-wired to love the colour.

"She needs to have a skirt on whenever she watches movies where there's dancing. She loves tiaras, magic wands and princess outfits. She's definitely much more girly than I've ever been."

Nicole, who turns 3 in May, has now become the centre of Lea's life.

Musicals are no longer the biggest thing for the Filipino star of tragic Broadway figures like Kim in Miss Saigon or Eponine in Les Miserables.

Ask about her daughter and her eyes immediately light up.

In an interview with The New Paper, Lea, 37, says Nicolecomes first in her life.

She said: "In fact, my career is starting to take a back seat now. I'm beginning to schedule work commitments to accommodate her. I can still afford to travel whenshe's in pre-school. But once she starts elementary school, I'll have to stay.

"Obviously, there will be certain exceptions. But my life will revolve around hers."

Even when answering questions, Lea remained attentive to her daughter and paused in mid-sentence at times to answer Nicole, who was calling out for her.

Singing praises

Lea delights in Nicole singing praises of her work, although she also puts her daughter's comments in perspective: "She's just 2 years old and will always be biased."

Lea is in town for the stage production of Cinderella, where she plays the lead character. The musical is on at the Esplanade Theatre andwill endon 22 Jan.

She rose to international prominence after playing the lead original character of Kim in Broadway musical Miss Saigon (1989).

Then she became the first Asian to take on the iconic role of Eponine in Les Miserables (1993).

She was also the singing voice in two Disney animated movies - as Jasmine in Aladdin (1992) and Fa Mulan in Mulan(1998).

Having Nicole is just the beginning, Lea said. She hopes to give Nicole a sibling.

"I'd like to have another kid. I got my wish of having a girl for my first child so it does not matter if the next one is a boy or another girl."

Speaking like only a thrifty mother would, she added:

"If I have another girl, I don't have to buy too many clothes because there are the hand-me-downs from Nicole."

But while she is travelling most of the time for work, Lea is grateful that she has a supportive husband in businessman Robert Chien.

She said: "I told him, 'This is what you are getting into. This is my job and it will always be my job.'

"He's incredibly understanding and encouraging in my finding opportunities to continue to work, which is rare. I'm very lucky that I married someonelike that."

They met in Los Angeles in 2002 throughMr Chien's cousin, with whom Lea was performing in the musical Flower Drum Song.

Mr Chien, of Chinese-Japanese descent, is the president of a media company in Manila.

Lea said the family reunited in Singapore during the New Year holidays.

But Mr Chien had to return to Manila soon after for work.

Thankfully, her mum and nanny help look after Nicole when she is performing.

Lea said: "The best part about being a mum is just watching her grow. It's hilarious when you hear new expressions from her."

She shared a recent dining experience at Ristorante Da Valentino in Bukit Timah .

"We had this gorgeous grilled beef and we cut a few little pieces for Nicole just in case she wanted some.

"She put one in her her mouth and just went, 'This is so good!' with furrowed brows and an animated face.

"And we were, like, where did that come from? I had to take a video of her doing it. So I whipped out my phone and she repeated the act twice for the camera.

"I just had to share the video with my friends, so it's now on Facebook."

Besides picking up phrases and a love of food from her mum, Nicole may have also inherited Lea's "performing" genes.

Lea said: "She repeats lines from movies, something I tend to do too. She loves music and singing from Aladdin and Mulan."

As to whether her daughter now figures in her choice of roles, Lea said: "I don't necessarily pick roles that she will be able to watch.

"But I try to be mindful, in the sense that I know she's going to watch my work one day. So it had better be something I would be proud of her seeing and, I hope, she'll be proud of."

But what if Hollywood beckons?

Except for a few minor TV roles in 2001 and an English pop album, Lea has never made the crossover into the mainstream American scene.

Perhaps things will change, now that musical- turned-film-adaptations have become increasingly popular.

Chicago won an Oscar and Mamma Mia! was recently nominated for a Golden Globe.

Lea, who is touring the US for concerts in May, said she welcomes opportunities to star in musical films as long as she can be close to her family.

She said: "A film adaptation of a theatrical work allows more people to see a great work that has been on stage. Take Doubt and Mamma Mia!, for example.

"In truth, a lot of movie versions turn out to be superior to their stage cousins. There are some elements of a story which only work as a film because of what is possible.

"Having said that, watching performers 'live' in very emotional circumstances and their standing just a few feet away from you are a different experience altogether."

This article was first published in The New Paper on Jan 16, 2009.

readers' comments

Copyright © 2009 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.