Lea Salonga is best known for acting and singing as some of the most iconic sweet young things to grace the stage and the big screen – from Aladdin’s Princess Jasmine and Mulan in the Disney movies to Miss Saigon’s Kim and Les Miserables’ Eponine in the blockbuster musicals.
But the Filipino singer and actress will be stepping into a whole new (not to mention ghastly) world for her next role – a serial killer’s accomplice with a penchant for making pies out of human flesh.
Later this year, Salonga will be playing Mrs Lovett in the gruesomely fun musical Sweeney Todd, which will be staged in Singapore after its run in Manila. Presented here by Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT), the Stephen Sondheim classic will be shown from Nov 28 to Dec 8 at Marina Bay Sands.
“This is one of my favourite Sondheim musicals and now that I’m 48 years old, it seems to be the right point in my life to do this particular show,” said the actress-singer, who was in town to promote the show. “It’s part of the fun of getting older – stuff like this gets dropped on your lap.”
RETURNING TO SINGAPORE
It will be a chance for fans to finally see Salonga this year, after two cancelled shows at the Esplanade in February following a freak accident, where she suffered a broken leg during a holiday in Japan.
“I’m not wearing a brace so that says a lot. By the time I come here it’ll be even better. With physical therapy and working out again, things will come back to normal,” said Salonga, who’s very keen to sink her teeth into this Sondheim musical – which will be a way of coming full circle in Singapore after also doing Into The Woods with SRT more than 25 years ago.
First staged in 1979, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street tells the story of a barber who goes on a killing spree in his barbershop, aided by a pie maker who makes baked goods out of the former’s victims. In 2007, a film version directed by Tim Burton was released, starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.
“I’ve seen the (stage) production at least two, three times in different places and each time, it’s not the grisly-ness of it that hits me – it’s all the human interaction. It’s not seeing blood or watching him kill people – it’s how dark certain people’s desires can be. The darker part of humanity is the interesting thing. The rest of it is just spectacle,” she said.
ON ALADDIN AND SINGING SPEECHLESS
It might be a surprising turn for those who still associate Salonga with cheery Disney princesses and tragic young women, but playing a darker, older role at this point in her life and career is something that simply comes with the territory – and her trademark voice.
“I’ve sung Miss Saigon, I’ve sung Jasmine and Mulan and it’s primarily known as a very bright, angelic, pretty tone. Now I sound like a well taken care of 48-year-old I guess. And in certain aspects my voice has become stronger and more resilient,” she said.
As for her Disney side, when asked what she thought of the recent live action version of Aladdin and the upcoming one for Mulan, Salonga was excited to see both – and hopefully she’ll have time to do so.
“I have not seen (Aladdin) yet – life got too busy. It’ll probably end up coming out on home video first before I end up seeing it, which is perfectly fine, then I can see it at home and I’m sure I’m gonna love it,” she said.
Wouldn’t it be difficult to watch another person take on a role she’s known for?
“You have to take yourself out of it. Because what this new person will bring into it is completely different. One piece of advice that I was given as far as the new version of Aladdin was to watch it while forgetting that the first one ever happened, which is very hard,” she admitted.
That said, there’s one song from the recent Aladdin that she’d like to try her hand at singing – Speechless.
“I would like to add that to my repertoire. When I heard the song, I immediately got up. Naomi Scott was such a beautiful interpreter. There are many concerts coming so it’ll happen at some point,” she said.
TOLERANCE LEVEL FOR HORROR AND FOOD
For now, it’s all about the sinister Mrs Lovett and a macabre musical with lots and lots of blood. Which might take getting used to when it comes to someone whose tolerance level for gruesome stuff isn’t that high.
“I don’t think I could ever watch any of the SAW movies because my tolerance level for that is, ugh, that’s just gratuitous at this point. I’m not into gratuitous blood or violence,” she said. “I mean, I did love Nightmare On Elm Street, I think I saw most of them. But after watching The Ring, that kind of turned me off from horror movies completely! Whenever I pass this very large television set that my husband and I used to have, it’s like, I can’t. I can’t do horror.”
And we’re sure her character’s culinary predilections are enough to make her squeamish, too?
“Not really. I’m Filipino,” she said with a laugh. “I’ll eat almost everything – I do eat balut and dinuguan (pork blood stew). So my tolerance level for that kind of stuff is pretty high.”
But then she gives that picture-perfect Disney Princess smile with just a hint of the sinister, of course.
“But I draw the line at human meat.”
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Flee Street runs from Nov 28 to Dec 8 at Sands Theatre, Marina Bay Sands. Tickets are on sale now at Sistic.